By The “OEM Doctor”
There has been talk in the industry that a self-calibrating 360 birdseye camera system is coming to market soon. It would remove a key drawback for aftermarket parking-overview systems, namely the need for many hours of calibration work.
But there’s also new multi-camera systems coming to market that differ from 360 birdseye cameras with their own set of advantages and drawbacks.
So which should car electronics specialists pursue and which will win out in the end?
360 BIRDSEYE VS MULTI-CAM SYSTEMS
Birdseye cameras debuted in 2007 in the Infiniti line-up, and have since been adopted by a few other OEMs. They include four individual cameras whose images are combined together in one digitized view seen by the driver. The effect is like peering into a fishbowl with your vehicle being placed directly in the middle. Their purpose is to give a 360 birdseye view around the vehicle. With some 360 systems, you also get the ability to activate any one of the 4 cameras at any time.
Multi-cam systems are a little different in that they give you one camera image at a time, even though the systems can include up to six or more cameras. When activated, each camera (with its own trigger such as a turn signal or push button) will display on a video screen in the car.
Drawbacks of birdseye systems are the cameras must be perfectly placed to get a properly functioning system. If the location or angle of the camera is off, the system will not calibrate properly. As a result, the mounting and adjustment process for the cameras can take 3-6 hours depending on the vehicle. Then each camera will need to be individually calibrated with a combination of a contrasting drop cloth and on screen menu adjustments.
And even then the technician still has to figure out how to integrate the cameras into each specific vehicle. That adds another 1-3 hours to install time.
A birdseye system can range from $499-$999 retail (uninstalled), plus 6-8 hours of labor, which can easily amount to a $1700-$2000 sale conservatively. This can be daunting enough to keep you from making the sale consistently. Of course, for some customers, that absolutely have to have it, money is no object.
The advantage of multi-cam systems is you can use any type of composite video camera, (unlike birdseye systems that need special cameras). So the systems are more cost effective. Also, the systems are much easier to install. They include a switcher and correlating triggers. Some switchers also have pulse stabilizers with negative or positive sensing inputs for easy connections to turn signals or other typically unstable trigger sources. This takes the guesswork out of finding specific connection points as it figures it out for you! So it saves time and labor.
But the disadvantage, again, is the driver can only view one image at a time.
WHAT ARE THE OEM’s DOING??
Believe it or not, it would seem that the OEM’s are drifting towards a multi-cam system, rather than a 360. I would have to believe that this is due to its lower cost and limitless applications for various cameras. Dodge, Chrysler, GM and FORD are all going in this direction for their 2017 line up of trucks and larger vehicles. In fact, Ford has already revealed a 7-camera system to its dealerships for the upcoming 2017 line-up. GM has also released a trailer version retrofit kit for its 2014-2016 models. Various view functions are also going to be accessible to help in certain scenarios such as: parking at a curb or hitching up a trailer, giving you the ability to activate 2 cameras simultaneously.
In summary, the 360 systems do have a potential to gain greater traction but some house cleaning needs to be done first. Specifically, cost reductions, easier installations and more versatile components. My sources tell me this is coming soon but only time will tell.
In the meantime, I feel the current existence of the multi-cam system is the better path to provide consumers an understanding of how beneficial these systems can be without denting their pocketbooks too much. Once the market sees how valuable and safe they are, they will be open to the NEXT BEST THING! Could be 360 or 360 3D??? For now, I will keep my stethoscope to the beat of what’s out there and file it in my report
NOTE: The OEM Doctor is a leading industry innovator with close ties to both the aftermarket and OEMs. He will be writing editorials occasionally in CEoutlook on technology issues in car electronics based on his front seat view of OEM and aftermarket innovation.