The fascinating lead-up to the Le Mans 24 Hour race in three week's time is a technological smorgasbord as usual, with new technologies being used to gain infinitesimal increments of seconds per lap in the hope that it will lead to a winning margin over 350+ laps and 24 hours. A new addition to the dominant Audi R18 cars for this year's race will be an AMOLED digital rear view mirror.
Now a digital rear-view mirror isn't exactly new, (though I can't think of any in production that currently use an AMOLED screen), but it's the first time such a digital system has been used in a closed LMP sports prototype.
Racing of any type is a sight-response game - 95+% of what a racer needs to know reaches the brain via the eyes - there's some feel from the front end via the steering/bars/controls, and a bit more via one's inbuilt sensors for pitch, roll and yaw, but the vast, vast majority comes from the eyes. So being able to see what's happening is important if you want to go fast sustainably.
For LMP sports cars, this can be a problem, as the extremely low, central seating position and the structure of the monocoque and mid-engine means that there is no rear window.
Going one step further, traditional reflection-based rear view mirrors are of dubious value in any high speed situation because of the vibration and turbulence which blurs the image at speed, plus the size of the rear wing which leaves a massive blind spot directly behind you.
This is further compounded by rain, which turns the mirrors into a kaleidoscope at night, and as we all know, mirrors are aerodynamic disasters, creating great turbulence and hence aerodynamic drag.
Audi's digital rear-view solution consists of an AMOLED display and a lightweight, compact camera sits behind the antennas on the roof.
“This gives us a whole host of benefits,” stresses Audi's Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. “The operation of the mirror is weather-neutral. By contrast, when using outside mirrors, heavy water spray severely impairs the driver’s field of vision when it rains.
"For the new digital mirror, we worked out various day and night driving modes. Even when a rival approaches from the rear with high-beam headlights the image is superb and not just a glaring light spot.”
Much of the secret of the new system is the active matrix OLED (AMOLED) display which offers very high resolution thanks to particularly small pixels with a diameter of 0.1 millimetres, excellent image quality and very short response times.
“Therefore, even at 330 km/h we’re achieving a totally fluid image flow in real-time transmission,” says Ullrich, "at this speed, the Audi R18 covers a distance of 92 meters per second.
"As these new types of screens are freely programmable, Audi uses them to display other data as well. Information on the gear that is currently engaged, the slip level of the tires, and specific warning lights have been integrated into the central instrument.
“I’m pleased to see that we’ve managed to make another contribution to active safety through this technology. We’ve previously achieved major effects not only with basic concepts but also through detailed innovations. The introduction of a tire pressure warning system in the 2001 season in the Audi R8 is just one case in point. Our drivers came to highly value the digital rear-view mirror right on its premiere at Spa.”
At the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), Audi achieved a one-two-three-four victory.