We haven’t gotten this excited for a rear-view mirror since Pearl Jam’s greatest hits, but Audi has managed to advance the art of looking behind us and promptly ignoring what’s there. It’s the race car driver’s credo: “what’s behind me is not important.”
(That’s actually not true. Race car drivers pay a lot of attention to things happening behind them, such as cars sliding out of control and the enraged faces of their rivals.)
Digital screens for looking backwards are nothing new; they’ve been teased on concept cars for decades now. But this digital mirror, in the Audi R18 prototype race car, is a necessity: its mid-engine setup leaves no room for a rear window, and traditional glass mirrors would vibrate too much at speeds of over 200 miles per hour. It was also an aerodynamic drawback.
The new camera, encased in carbon fiber and about the size of a cigarette, is far sleeker. It’s resistant to rain splashes, shaking, and headlight glare, and it can switch to night vision instantly. The screen it’s attached to is mounted in the same place a mirror would go, but it’s a high-tech AMOLED display used only on the most wallet-busting of televisions. With smaller pixels (approximately 0.1 millimeters each) and almost no image delay, what happens in back stays in back in ultra-high-resolution and fluid image flow. And being the precise Germans they are, Audi’s engineers have also adapted the screen to display other things—tire pressure, grip levels, the current gear, warning lights, and possibly the current Mega Millions jackpot.
Could this make it to a production car? Don’t count it out. After all, Audi claims to cull its best technology from its Le Mans dominating race cars, with anything from TDI diesel engines to minor stuff like “race-inspired” S-Line badges. And Audi is certainly not ruling out the idea. ”The system was initially installed in an Audi R8,” recalls Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, the head of Audi Motorsport. “I’m sure that we’ll be able to return valuable findings to our colleagues. If the digital rear-view mirror is introduced in production vehicles at a future time our consumers will yet again profit from a system that has been successfully tested in motorsport as well.”