Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Dash Cams - No longer the next "Big Thing"

... it is "THE" big thing!

What do you know about "In-car Safety Cameras" (aka "Dash-Cams")?  
Types of Dash-Cams

Perhaps you've seen dash-cam footage from YouTube?  Or watched TV shows dedicated entirely to showing captured incidents using dash-cams. 

Maybe you've seen in the news, footage of the meteor that exploded near Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013?  If not for dash-cams, it is unlikely that anyone would have captured the meteor as it entered the Earth's atmosphere till its demised a few seconds later.

This goes to show that many motorist already use these devices in the world.  Perhaps you're already one of them.

No matter your level of exposure with these devices, there is no doubt they're fast becoming common windscreen attachments as SatNavs, eTags and hand free phone holders.

And just as car stereos with Aux/USB input, Bluetooth, and reversing cameras are now standard in most cars, I see dash-cams as the next "must have" car option for new car buyers.  Right now they're selling like hot cakes as an after-market accessory.

Yet despite this, I have not heard of any new cars available for sale in this country, offering such important (safety) devices as standard.  Or at the very least, a factory fitted option.  Not even from the likes of uber expensive luxury makers Rolls Royce & Bentley.  Though I could be wrong - it won't be the first time, nor will it be the last.

How difficult is it to include dash-cams as part of the car?  And will it cost much?

From an outsider's point of view, it does not seem difficult nor should it cost much at all.  Automotive engineers could incorporate the design of the device into the development of the vehicle from the start, coupled with the economies of scale in manufacturing, complexity is removed and cost kept minimal.  I see pricing similar to that of a factory fitted reversing camera.  In fact it could cost less as dash-cams do not necessarily need a monitor/screen to work.

What should the unit have? 

Manufacturers can opt for several forms and features:
  • Camera - should have superb ability to balance light & excellent night vision
  • Resolution - should be Full-HD (High Definition) at a minimum and/or Ultra-HD as option
  • Frame Rate - should be fast!  This along with the above specs, will provide clearer resolution in both videos and stills - perfect when trying to identify a person or number plate
  • Motion Sensors and/or Proximity Sensors - the unit should automatically starts recording when sensing movement within the vicinity of the vehicle.  Ideal in capturing break-ins, parking incidents (when car is unattended) and vandalism.
360Fly Camera

Types of Views:
  • Forward looking view only
  • Front and Rear view
  • 360 degree view

360 degree view could be done with a single camera like the 360Fly (check out their website or their YouTube Channel.  I was blown away from the experience the first time I saw a video captured using a 360Fly camera) but might not be ideal since many vehicles use their roofs to carry loads.  Fitting a single camera on the roof is out of the question.

Fitting several cameras (one for each sides) would be suitable.  Then using software (built into the device) to stitch the videos together, or simply have each cameras capture footage and store these as individual files.

Is it complex?

If some cars are now equipped with "birds-eye" view cameras to aid with parking, why not video?  The technology already exist.  No need to reinvent the wheel. 

Surround View
Where to store the video?  And what medium?

A Micro SD would be the ideal storage medium.  They are available everywhere; comes in various storage capacity; and ultra-compact.
Car manufacturers can design a dedicated slot in the dash, or in the glovebox, or centre console, or in a secure part of the vehicle - perhaps requiring a key to open.  Making it difficult for thieves to retrieve the evidence of them breaking into your vehicle.

And as connected vehicles become common, instant upload or back-up to the cloud is an option.

So do I own a dash-cam?  Yes I do.  I personally use an aftermarket front and rear looking dash-cam.  But the unit only records Full-HD at the front and 720p at the rear.  It simultaneously records both front and rear video into two separate files and stored in a Micro SD card.   Its frame rate, night mode and motion sensing mode could be better.  But for less than $50 delivered  (not including the cost of the Micro SD Card), it's good enough - for now.

Nonetheless I'd gladly choose a factory fitted dash-cam and be prepared to pay 10x-20x more than what I paid if available - so long as it's a superior unit and incorporate most (if not all) of the features listed above.

Why do you think dash-cams are not yet offered as factory standard item? 

Beyond the lack of vision from car manufacturers, I doubt cost and technology is the roadblock.  There could be bigger underlying reasons.   Reasons such as:
  • Litigations -   Perhaps the roadblock could be a legal one.  Manufacturers could expose themselves to possible lawsuits.  Scenarios such as faulty/malfunctioning dash-cams on vehicles involved in accidents.  If this was the case, I'm sure our lawsuit loving cousins from the U.S. of A. will exploit this to the full extent.
    • Answer:   Don't know.  This is a tough one to address.  Perhaps bring out "Common-sense Law", where a judge can prevent a lawsuit going to the courts if the reason is deemed plain stupid etc.

  • Big Brother - Car manufacturers can be accused acting as "Big Brother" for the authorities and insurance companies?  Mostly a problem for motorists who regularly break road rules.
    • Answer:   Manufacturers can offer these units as factory fitted options, or if standard, motorists can choose not to use them.  Or better yet, use them and don't do dumb and dangerous things.  Problem Solved.
But no matter what objections there might be, I can see more upside. 
  • Reduced Road Rage - As these devices become mainstream, captured incidents are increased.  Then maybe short fused motorist will think twice before committing an offence.  With more video evidence on hand, success rate in prosecuting these offenders is greatly improved.
  • Reduced Dangerous Driving  - This could reduce "cowboy" driving behaviour.  As ever more motorist capture footage of these individuals' anti-social driving behaviours on public roads, having proof is increased.
  • Cheaper Insurance - Insurance companies could offer lower premiums to motorist with these devices fitted in their cars.  Just as they once did when a vehicle was fitted with an immobiliser or car alarm.  This is not the case yet, but it could be.
  • Driving Monitor - Parents with kids who regularly borrow the family car would love this.  As they [parents] now have a way to see how their kids drive their cars when they're not around.  Not so good for the hoon teenager.  Great benefit for the parents.
There's no doubt there are more pros and cons on the topic.  But I personally believe there are more benefits than hindrance for having dash-cams.

Hence I put it out there to all car manufacturers.   Start incorporate dash-cams into your future models.  Not only will it bring additional revenue for you,  you could also help improve motorist safety.

So who'll be first?

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