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How Backup Cameras Work
On the face of it, the idea is simple: When you put your car into Reverse, a camera mounted at the rear of the vehicle turns on and sends an image to a monitor to show what's behind you. But the reality is a bit more complicated. Backup camera systems, even at their most basic, are fairly sophisticated pieces of technology, and they're getting more high-tech all the time.
The complexity begins with the image that is captured by the camera. Rather than transmitting the picture that a typical camera might see, backup camera systems are actually designed to send a mirror image to the monitor so the orientation is correct when you look at it. If you were looking at a direct feed of what the camera sees, the image would be reversed, and you'd steer left when you wanted to go right. The system is designed to correct this so the view on the display makes sense.
Manufacturers generally install backup cameras in the vehicle's rear trim pieces. They're fairly unobtrusive, so they can be a bit hard to see, but you might find them hidden in the bumper, near the license plate, in the trunklid or in the tailgate of an SUV or pickup truck. The cameras are usually aimed at a downward angle to provide the best view immediately behind your car. They also have wide-angle lenses, so you're getting a more comprehensive image than you'd get with a rearview mirror.
Monitors can be mounted anywhere in the driver's field of vision, but they're generally found in the center area of the cockpit. Since most newer vehicles have an existing screen for the entertainment system, climate control, navigation and other functions, that display is often used for the backup camera system. Other versions use a portion of the rearview mirror as a monitor, which has the advantage of situating the display where drivers are accustomed to looking when backing up. But this type of monitor is much smaller and provides a less detailed image than one with a larger screen.
Although some of the early experimental systems, and a few aftermarket models, use monochrome cameras and monitors, virtually all of them now feature color displays.
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