Park Assist cameras are positioned in the bumper fascia.
Park Assist cameras are positioned in the bumper fascia.
( Source: ©Pond Thananat -

ADVANCED DRIVING TECHNOLOGY How cameras are used in mobility today

Author / Editor: Jason Unrau / Nicole Kareta

If you drive a car less than five years old, it’s very likely equipped with at least one camera. Unlike your smartphone, these cameras aren’t used for recording photos or videos. Rather, their implementation is almost exclusively used to make your drive more convenient and safer.

Search for a new car on the market today and you’ll find that virtually all have multiple cameras. You may not see them as they’re discreetly placed to be distraction-free, but they’re watching all the time. They’re sole purpose is for monitoring around your car for safety and even inside at times. Where are these cameras placed? What certain roles do they perform, and what technologies are powered by these devices?

Which types of vehicles are equipped with cameras?

Currently, passenger vehicles of all makes and models are equipped with cameras for increasing safety, visibility, and convenience. That ranges from the smallest subcompact cars on the market like the Chevrolet Spark to the most luxurious SUVs made by Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz.

While some heavy-duty trucks may be equipped with advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) for safety sake, widespread adoption means that many still do not use cameras.

What types of cameras are on the market?

The camera designs used in ADAS systems are incredible, especially when you consider how advanced technology is today compared with digital cameras from even a decade ago. ADAS cameras from Magna International, for example, are compact, barely larger than the size of a postage stamp altogether with the optics as small as the camera on your smartphone.

On one hand, there are cameras with high resolution of one megapixel or higher that are sealed against the elements and provide exceptional communicability with processors. Other cameras are slightly larger but are available at a lower price point, making ADAS systems more accessible.

Roles that cameras perform

There are many roles that operate exclusively on camera input or in conjunction with other technologies. You’ll find them both outside the car and inside the cabin on certain models.

Park Assist

With Park Assist systems, a camera partners with short-range radar to ‘see’ and identify obstacles behind and/or in front of the car. Often, steering input will have guidance lines that help you guide the car into the spot. However, Park Assist can take control of steering functions as well in some makes like Ford, perfectly positioning the vehicle between the parking lines in a spot. These cameras are positioned in the bumper fascia.

360-Degree Surround View

The most passive camera systems on cars today are those involved in backup camera and 360-Degree Surround View systems. Essentially, these cameras function when the vehicle is operating at slow speed and reversing to provide a birds-eye view around your car. A camera is mounted on each side, along with one on the front and rear. Other systems, either lidar or radar, may be involved for obstacle detection as well.

Traffic Sign Recognition

An innovative feature on some vehicles equipped with ADAS is Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR). Literally, a camera mounted behind the windshield ‘watches’ the roadside for traffic signs. The signal is constantly run through a processor and, when a sign is detected, the processor shows the driver the sign in the instrument cluster.

Lane Departure Warning/Lane Keeping Assist

A signal from a forward-facing camera behind the windshield is processed constantly and the traffic lane markers are identified. If the driver appears to be drifting outside the lane, a warning is sounded and displayed on the instrument cluster – ‘Lane Departure Warning’. If the vehicle is so equipped, steering input can be automatically applied to guide the vehicle back to the center of the lane, or ‘Lane Keeping Assist.’

Electronic Side Mirror View

Also a passive system, a screen in the driver information center engages a camera mounted on the outside ‘A’ pillar to display the view beside the vehicle. These cameras are a replacement for traditional glass-and-plastic side mirrors.

Interior monitoring purposes

In addition to exterior-facing cameras, there are a few systems that monitor inside the vehicle.

  • Driver Monitoring systems have a camera positioned to watch the driver’s attentiveness. Should the computerized processor determine that the driver appears to be losing attention, it will provide a warning to pull over and take a break.
  • Gesture Recognition has been embraced by BMW to control infotainment, navigation, and climate control systems. A camera in the dash identifies when certain motions are performed and adjusts systems accordingly.
  • In-cabin sensing can also deliver information aside from the driver. For instance, Child Detection Systems can identify if a child was accidentally left in the vehicle, alerting the proper channels to avoid unfortunate circumstances.