One piece of new-car tech that’s sure to impress is the is 360-degree parking monitor (also known as bird’s eye, around- or surround-view) that shows a simulated top-down view of the vehicle and what’s around it.
The bird’s-eye image of the car appearing on the touchscreen often has uninitiated passengers demanding to know what kind of wizardry is involved.
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While it’s tempting to explain “the car launches a drone when you select reverse” or “the car manufacturer has a satellite …”, the real tech behind it is still pretty clever.
The system works by stringing together images from cameras located around the vehicle – usually in the front grille, beneath each door mirror, and one at the rear that is also used as the reversing camera.
The cameras fitted under the mirrors have wide-angle lenses that take in the entire side of the vehicle.
Software merges the images to make it look you’re being filmed from about 20 metres directly above, and a picture of a car is plonked in the middle.
The 360-degree image can be shown on a split screen in conjunction with forward, rear or side views.
The system works like a reversing camera, and activates when you when you turn on the ignition or select reverse. Some systems, often combined with a front-facing camera view, also work at up to 10km/h when you select a forward gear.
With some systems the simulated aerial view can be distorted, so dotted lines are added to provide a true sense of your car’s width to help you avoid obstacles or scrape the kerb.
Audible warnings via front and rear parking sensors are also used to ensure accuracy.
The 360-degree camera is primarily marketed as a safety feature in that it helps spot pedestrians, particularly children, while reversing or manoeuvring into tight spots. But its bread and butter role is helping to prevent bumps and scrapes, saving plenty of money in the long run.