TROY, MI – Teenagers in drivers training classes learn not to lurk in the “blindspot,” that area beside and slightly behind a vehicle that is hard to see with conventional side-view mirrors.

One sudden maneuver by a driver who thinks the lane is clear and the neighborhood collision shop has just won some new business, not to mention the potential for injuries.

Magna International Inc. is attempting to redefine the blindspot, as today’s larger vehicles present unique vision challenges for drivers. Behind, beside, in front of and even inside the vehicle are “blindzones” the driver never sees.

The highly diversified automotive supplier from Aurora, ON, Canada, has a new, multi-faceted product strategy that offers new vision options for drivers who are increasingly challenged to keep their eyes on the road ahead, while being aware of their surroundings.

Last month, Magna introduced its Total BlindZoneManagement (TBZM) suite of products at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The strategy springs from the company’s electronics unit and from Magna Donnelly, the industry’s No.1 mirror producer. Magna acquired Donnelly Corp. of Holland, MI, in 2002.

Crash statistics confirm the need for TBZM, Magna contends. Every year, children are injured or killed by vehicles that are backing up. With the proliferation of pickups and SUVs, the problem has grown worse. Non-crash accidents have killed more than 1,000 children since 1999, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. reports.

Ultrasonic and radar sensors placed in the rear bumper are commonly used to detect objects behind a vehicle.

But the systems are not failsafe. Snow and ice on the vehicle can activate the sensors, which trigger an audible alarm, says Charon McNabb, senior product manager-Mirrors Americas at Magna Donnelly. Drivers in a hurry may ignore the alarm and assume the sensors are merely covered with snow or ice.

The only way to know for sure if an object is behind the vehicle is for the driver to see the area. Magna refers to NHTSA comments that the primary responsibility for object detection rests with the driver.

Drivers need “visual confirmation that the pathway is clear,” a NHTSA spokesman says. “Non-visual systems, by their nature, cannot provide such confirmation.”

A growing number of vehicles, including some of General Motors Corp.’s new fullsize SUVs, offer camera-based rear-vision systems to address the problem.

A camera in the liftgate scans the area behind the vehicle, and the wide-angle image appears on a liquid crystal display (LCD) screen on the instrument panel.

Magna’s solution uses a CMOS (complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor) image sensor, while others in the marketplace use CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors.

CCD sensors have been around longer but consume more power than CMOS sensors and are more expensive to manufacture. A growing number of consumer electronic products, namely digital cameras, are using CMOS sensors.

Likewise, Magna is banking on the auto industry to migrate toward CMOS imaging technology for camera-vision systems in the future, and the supplier says it has several customers that plan to use its solution.

New for ’07, Magna began supplying its CMOS system for the Hummer H2 SUT, housed in the rear bumper. The device is optional on the H2, and a 3.5-in. (9-cm) full-color display is integrated in the rearview mirror.

When the driver puts the vehicle in reverse, the video display automatically deploys from the side of the mirror, giving the driver a view behind the vehicle, both day and night. Once the vehicle is shifted into drive, the video display retracts back into the mirror.

Magna also supplies the rear vision system for the Fiat Ducato work van. The CMOS camera is packaged in one of the rear cargo doors, and the display folds down from the overhead console.

Magna Electronics produces the CMOS cameras for both the Hummer and Fiat programs.

Display options are numerous. Besides folding down from the overhead console or from behind the rearview mirror, Magna’s rear-vision system also can be displayed on LCD screens, which are becoming common in vehicles for controlling audio, climate, navigation and other functions.

A fourth option – a clever way to add value to its Magna Donnelly product line – is Display on Demand, which overlays the image on a small portion of the rearview mirror.

Research by Magna suggests the vast majority of drivers prefer the display in the mirror, McNabb says.

Rear-vision systems are designed to enhance safety, but they also can instill a false sense of security.

Recent test drives by Ward’s editors of production vehicles equipped with rear vision systems, including the GM SUVs, have caused near accidents because the view projected on screen suggests drivers have more room to back up than they actually have.

This distorted perspective results from the “fish-eye” effect that auto makers and suppliers struggle to correct with the new optical devices.

Dan Harris, director-Driver Assistance Business Line at Magna Electronics, says the supplier’s latest iteration of rearview camera vision corrects much of the fish-eye effect by flattening the image to make it appear more natural and truer to perspective.

The new system also uses a smaller camera, is less expensive and allows for graphical elements to be laid on top of the image, such as guide lines to aid in parking, Harris says.

Magna has a Mazda CX-7 demonstration vehicle, with a factory-installed CCD rear-vision system. The image is displayed in the center console. For comparative purposes, Magna engineers installed their own latest-generation rear-vision system in the vehicle as well.

In a test drive, the Magna CMOS system provides a slightly clearer, more realistic view of the area behind the vehicle, but the perspective still appears a tad askew.

Beyond rear vision, Magna uses other solutions as part of TBZM.

Its BlindZoneMirror has a special convex lens attached to either side-view mirror to expand visibility of the traditional blindspot area beside the vehicle. While radar-based lane-change sensing systems can cost $500 or more, McNabb says the BlindZoneMirror would be available at a fraction of the price.

“There is a natural evolution from mirrors to cameras,” she says.

Inside, the BabyVue camera system allows drivers to see infants and toddlers in rear car seats. Donnelly first showed the device at the Specialty Equipment Market Assn. show in Las Vegas in 2000.

In front of the vehicle, Magna offers its CornerVue camera system, integrated in the bumper to let drivers see around corners. The device, well suited for urban areas, helps drivers creep forward from between two parked cars and through narrow alleys.

Magna’s predictive front lighting system also uses a forward-facing CMOS camera, placed behind the rearview mirror, to help headlights anticipate and respond to curves in the road at night. Headlights also switch automatically to high beams when opposing traffic is absent.

Magna begins production this year for three intelligent headlamp control programs. The system works with headlamps from Magna or any other lighting manufacturer.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com