Consider the rear-view mirror. It's a fixture in most people's lives. You count on it to help you see what's behind. You count on it for backing up. But in many cases, it may not be the best way for you to see where you've been.
Turns out, engineers may be thinking the same thing. After visiting with exhibitors at Agritechnica and seeing some interesting concepts for future cabs, we got a sense of what engineers might be thinking about the future of 'looking back.' The concepts, by the way, were not done by the majors these are independently produced products through partnerships or innovative engineering investment. But may end up in popular equipment brands in the future.
What happens to the mirror? First consider the mirror's limitations. It can only see so far behind you. And in some cases, the mirror on tractors and combines could be 6 to 10 feet away. They're big but they're out there. And frankly in dusty conditions (who harvested soybeans in the Midwest this fall?) they may not provide enough visibility at all.
But what if cameras, with a vertical monitor mounted on each side of the cab, could do the work? That's the concept we're seeing here at Agritechnica. We saw a concept cab by Continental (the tire and track maker with a surprising footprint in technology), a collaboration between several suppliers to the market (Grammar, Hella, and several others) and a demonstration by a camera maker. It was an eye opener.
We'll do more on the concept cabs in a future installment, but this time out we're focused on the end of the mirror. In the on-road trucking industry there's interest in getting rid of those mirrors which can cost plenty in energy use. One camera supplier explained that removing the mirrors from a big rig can cut fuel costs 3 to 4% - a significant change over 1 million miles of driving. But what are the benefits for slow moving farm equipment without aerodynamic fuel use issues?
Turns out having high-resolution cameras pointed behind you, with the proper wide-angle visibility can make a big difference. We talked with different engineers involved with the idea and came up with a few thoughts.
First, the high-resolution camera can offer a better picture at any time of day – no bad glare from a mirror getting hit by a setting (or rising) sun.
Second, there can be two images – a wide angle looking back and a smaller wider-angle camera view that can show you more than your current mirrors do now.
Third, the camera can give you superior night-vision views of your work – like views of machinery nearby, and even a good look at how machines you're pulling are performing. Also, the monitors take up little space and can be positioned for even easier viewing since they're in cab.
Your first question might be: You mentioned dust, how do you keep those cameras clean? Turns out the cameras in the concept vehicles have systems that allow for cleaning (yep windshield washers for cameras). Improving visibility around big machines, allowing you to see more of what's happening behind as you look ahead makes sense from a safety and comfort standpoint. When these systems will be available remains to be seen. But rest assured engineers are looking at these tools to enhance productivity.
They're even looking at 360-degree cameras that show you a "drone's eye view" of your machine, which can provide added safety because you can see if someone is nearby. It's an interesting tech trend from on-highway trucks that could be headed to off-highway equipment.