Tech News : UK Cars Now Using Rear HD-Screens Instead of Windows

The new Swedish-made Polestar 4 will be the first car on UK roads to replace a rear window (and traditional rear-view mirror) with a high-definition screen showing a real-time roof-mounted camera feed.

Two Digital Cameras With Feed Displayed In ‘Mirror’ 

In fact, instead of a traditional rearview mirror, the Polestar 4 has a high-resolution rear-view display in the shape and in the place of a normal mirror that receives the feed from the two roof-mounted digital cameras. Polestar describes this as a kind of 2-way mirror because it also doubles as a regular mirror, making it possible to switch between the live feed and a view of the rear passengers.

Already On The Road In China

The new Polestar 4 SUV coupe has been on the road in China since December and there have been no publicised problems.

The Benefits 

Polestar says the benefits of making the rear window obsolete and relying on a camera view instead are that: “It allows for an extended panoramic roof, a spacious passenger environment, and generous headroom, while a rear-facing HD camera provides a wider, unobstructed rearward view.”  

Necessary Because Head Structure Was Pushed Back To Make More Room 

As highlighted by the BBC’s UK motoring programme ‘TopGear,’ replacing the mirror and back window with a camera feed was less of a decision to include technology and more of a design necessity. This is because the desire to create a feeling of spaciousness and extra headroom in the Polestar 4 required pulling the header structure back as far as possible so that the panoramic roof stretches behind the rear passengers’ heads. This would have meant that a back window would be below the actual sightline anyway, thereby meaning a traditional rearview mirror would be useless.

Concerns 

Although there haven’t been any prominent stories emerging about issues, some concerns have been floated on the Polestar Forum. For example, one user says the rearview camera puts “everything in equal focus so nothing is unseen or blurry, but then you lose any accurate depth perception”. Another expresses concern that although they have designed the roof camera “not to get dirty,” they “simultaneously say manual cleaning is recommended”.

That said, others see the camera as a plus. For example, another forum contributor makes the point that “rear view is already just about gone especially with my kids’ car/booster seats taking up all but the middle few inches of view; this would be a net plus for me in that respect”. 

Vans 

For those concerned about the idea of no traditional rearview mirror, it’s worth remembering that many vans with solid back doors don’t have rearview mirrors anyway, and some trucks now have cameras instead of wing mirrors. Many drivers will also be familiar with driving behind cars that have so much stuff in the back that the rearview mirror is likely to be useless anyway. Also, with passengers in the back of the car, the rearview is often obscured.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The Volvo-owned sub-brand Polestar is associated with sleek modern design and technology – perhaps in a similar space to Tesla so it’s not a huge surprise that it would opt for this kind of change. Also, as the boss of Polestar pointed out in a recent interview, being relatively new on the scene, it doesn’t have a legacy of customers to disappoint, or who are likely to object and complain. In fact, the removal of the back window and replacement with a camera-feed mirror actually seems to have been a necessary design change in order to make the car feel more spacious rather than purely a decision to include more new technology.

Thinking about it logically, if you accept that many vans on the road don’t have rear windows or rearview mirrors, and assuming we trust reversing cameras and then consider the fact that there hasn’t been a huge outcry about the gradual introduction of autonomous vehicles to UK roads, this change by Polestar shouldn’t seem too scary. It seems that as we experience (and trust) technology more, we’re willing to give more ground to it and swap more first-hand and ‘real’ experiences for virtual ones, even while travelling at speed. That said, Polestar says that its 2-way mirror actually gives a better and wider view of the road than a traditional mirror.

The hope is, of course, that the cameras don’t get dirty, and that the camera/mirror system doesn’t fail (there’s always the side mirrors if it does). It’s likely that in the quest for more comfortable and spacious vehicle interiors, other vehicle manufacturers will opt for a similar system.

Tech Insight : Cameras In Airbnb Properties – What Are The Rules?

Following the Metro recently highlighting the issue of undisclosed cameras being used by a small number of Airbnb hosts, we take a look at what the rules say, reports in the news of this happening, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Do Airbnb Hosts Have The Right To Film Guests? 

You may be surprised to know that the answer to this question is yes, hosts do have the right to install surveillance devices in certain areas of their properties (which may result in guests being filmed) but this is heavily regulated and restricted for privacy reasons.

When/Where/Why/How Is It OK For Hosts To Film Guests? 

The primary legitimate reason for hosts to install surveillance devices is for security purposes. They are not allowed to use them for any invasive or unethical purposes. Airbnb’s community standards, for example, emphasise respect for the privacy of guests and any violation of these standards can lead to the removal of the host from the platform.

Clear Disclosure 

Airbnb’s company rules say that monitoring devices (e.g. cameras), may be used, but only if they are in common spaces (such as living rooms, hallways, and kitchens) and then only if Airbnb hosts disclose them in their listings. In short, if a host has any kind of surveillance device, they must clearly mention it in their house rules or property listing so that guests are made aware of these devices before they book the property.

What About Local Laws? 

It is also the case that although disclosed cameras in common spaces on a property may be OK by the company’s rules, Airbnb hosts must also adhere to local laws and regulations regarding surveillance. This can vary widely from place to place and, in some regions, recording audio without consent is illegal, whereas video might be permissible if disclosed.

Hidden Cameras 

Even though Airbnb rules are relatively clear, there appears to be anecdotal and news evidence that some Airbnb guests have discovered undisclosed surveillance devices in areas of Airbnb properties where they should not be installed. Examples that have made the news include:

– Back in 2019, it was reported that a couple staying for one night at an Airbnb property in Garden Grove, California discovered a camera hidden in a smoke detector directly above the bed.

– In July 2023, a Texas couple were widely reported to have filed a lawsuit against an Airbnb owner, claiming he had put up ‘hidden cameras’ in the Maryland property they had rented for 2 nights in August 2022. According to the Court documents of Kayelee Gates and Christian Capraro, the couple became suspicious after Capraro discovered multiple hidden cameras disguised as smoke detectors in the bedroom and bathroom.

– Last month, a man (calling himself Ian Timbrell) alleged in a post on X that he had found a camera tucked between two sofa cushions at his Aberystwyth Airbnb.

Wouldn’t It Be Better To Disallow Any Cameras Inside An Airbnb Rental Property? 

Banning all cameras at Airbnb rental properties might initially seem like a straightforward solution to privacy concerns, yet there are important factors to consider around this. Some hosts may legitimately need to use common areas such as entrances, for security purposes (perhaps the property is in an area where crime has been a problem) and they need to deter theft and vandalism and provide evidence if a crime occurs. On the other hand, a complete ban on cameras would address the privacy concerns of guests, ensuring they feel comfortable and secure during their stay.

Airbnb’s current policy attempts to balance security and privacy by allowing cameras in certain areas while requiring full disclosure and banning them in private spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms. However, enforcing a complete ban on cameras would be very challenging, as hidden cameras are, by nature, difficult to detect and even if there was a ban, some owners may simply not comply. The Airbnb model is built on trust between hosts and guests, and clear communication and transparency about security measures, including camera usage, are crucial for maintaining this trust. While a total ban on cameras might seem like a simple solution to privacy concerns, it overlooks the legitimate security needs of hosts. A balanced approach with clear guidelines and strict enforcement might be more effective in protecting both guest privacy and host security.

How To Check 

If you’re worried about possibly being filmed/recorded by hidden and undisclosed surveillance devices in a rented Airbnb property, here are some ways you can search the property and potentially reveal such devices:

– Inspect any gadgets. Check smoke detectors or alarm clocks as they are known as places to hide cameras. Examine any other tech that seems out of place. You may also want to check the shower head.

– Search for Lenses. For example, making sure the room is dark, use a torch (such as your phone’s torch) to spot reflective camera lenses in objects like decor or appliances.

– Use phone apps like Glint Finder for Android or Hidden Camera Detector for iOS to find hidden cameras.

– Check storage areas, e.g. examine drawers, vents, and any openings in walls/ceilings.

– Check mirrors. Many people worry about the two-way mirrors with cameras behind them. Ways to check include lifting any mirrors to see the wall behind, turning off the room light and then shining a torch into the mirror to see if an area behind is visible.

– Check for infrared lights (which can be used in movement-sensitive cameras). Again, this may be spotted by by using your phone’s camera in the dark, and then looking out for any small, purple, or pink lights that may be flashing or steady.

– Scan the property’s Wi-Fi network and smart home devices for unknown devices.

– Unplug the Airbnb property’s router. Stopping the Wi-Fi at source should disable surveillance devices and may reveal whether the owner is monitoring the property, e.g. it may prompt the host to ask about the router being unplugged.

– If you’re particularly concerned, buy and bring an RF signal detector with you. Widely available online, this is a device that can find any devices emitting Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals, e.g. wireless surveillance cameras, tracking devices and power supplies.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The issue of undisclosed cameras in Airbnb properties raises important considerations for Airbnb as a company, its hosts, and travellers. For Airbnb, the challenge lies in upholding and enforcing privacy standards to maintain user trust. This could involve enhancing their policies, perhaps even investing in technology or an inspection process for better detection of undisclosed devices, and/or providing more reassuring information about the issue, thereby safeguarding guest security, ensuring host accountability, and helping to protect their brand reputation.

It should be said that most Airbnb hosts abide by the company’s rules but are caught in a delicate balancing act between providing security and respecting the privacy of their guests. Any misuse of surveillance devices can, of course, have serious legal consequences and potentially harm a host’s reputation and standing on the platform. However, even just a few stories in the news about the actions on one or two hosts can have a much wider negative effect on consumer trust in Airbnb and can be damaging for all hosts. It could even simply deter people from using the platform altogether.

For some travellers, this situation may make them feel they must proactively take the responsibility for their own privacy (which may not reflect so well on Airbnb). They may feel as though they need to be informed about their rights, familiarise themselves with detection methods and remain vigilant during their stays.

This whole scenario emphasises the need for a continuous update of policies and practices by Airbnb to keep pace with technological advancements and the varying legal frameworks in different regions. It also highlights the importance of clear communication and transparency between the company, its hosts, and guests to maintain a trustworthy and secure environment.

Tech News : AI-Camera Captures More Motorists

A free-standing AI road safety camera system deployed in Cornwall caught 300 drivers in the first three days.

How It Works 

The camera system, on the A30 near Launceston, implemented by road safety tech firm Acusensus in partnership with Vision Zero South West, records clear images of passing vehicles (and of the driver) thanks to a series of cameras with high shutter speeds, an infra-red flash and a lensing and filtering system.

AI Reviews And Sorts Images 

The AI aspect of the system is used to quickly review each image (the cameras are monitoring the road continuousiy) and to identify images which could contain evidence of an offence. The (anonymised) images identified as containing offences are then sent to sent for review by a person to confirm whether an offence has actually occurred.

Catching Distracted Drivers 

The system (which has also been trialled recently by Hampshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police) was deployed in Cornwall as part of the ‘Heads Up’ solution, i.e. using AI cameras to identify distracted drivers and those not wearing a seatbelt. This is because the AI camera’s are able to capture clear images of the driver and what they are doing, such as using a phone while driving.

Two Cameras Focused On Seatbelt & Mobile Phone 

The AI system uses two cameras to specifically capture suspected distraction and seatbelt offences. The first camera is set at a shallow angle to identify mobile phone use to the ear, and to see is the seatbelt is across the body or hanging down behind the driver.

The second camera uses a steep view to capture visibility of mobile phone use low down, and to detect behaviour like texting near the steering wheel or door. The second camera also provides evidence of seatbelt use by being able to check the presence of the lap portion of the belt, and to confirm that the seatbelt is clipped into the buckle.

Using this camera setup, in the first three days of being in operation in Cornwall, the new AI camera system detected 117 mobile phone and 180 seat belt offences.

Can Be Moved 

The fact that the new AI camera system is free standing (mounted on a van) means it can be easily moved and can be deployed at other locations on some of the region’s most used roads.

AI Improving Road Safety 

Geoff Collins, UK General Manager for Acusensus, said: “The ‘Heads Up’ system is a perfect example for how AI technology can be used to improve road safety. Distracted drivers are a significant hazard for everyone, whilst those not wearing a seatbelt are far more likely to be killed in a collision – the Acusensus technology can help to change behaviours, reducing the casualty toll on our roads.”

Adrian Leisk, Head of Road Safety for Devon & Cornwall Police, said: “We are employing this new technology to send a clear message to anyone who continues to use their phone behind the wheel – you will get caught.” 

“Whether it’s by the Acusensus cameras, a passing officer or on video footage submitted through Op Snap, the result will be the same and you will end up with a hefty fine and six penalty points – which could be enough to cost some drivers their license and livelihood.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

In the UK, it’s been illegal to use a mobile phone while driving since 2003 but many motorists still do it, representing a major distraction risk, and causing many accidents and fatalities. It’s also been a legal requirement to wear a seatbelt while driving since 1983 but it seems that many motorists still fail to do so. Finally, the mobile AI camera system has provided UK police with a means to collect reliable evidence for these offences because the camera system can actually see into the car and has two cameras specifically focused on the seatbelt and the driver’s lap areas – something not possible before with conventional cameras. The AI aspect of the system also means that cameras can run continuously and the image of each car can be quickly processed and sorted, which is another aspect that would not have been possible with conventional camera systems.

The fact that the camera system is free standing and operated from a van is also a major advantage as it can be moved and used quickly on trouble-spots anywhere in the country and so motorists won’t simply be able to learn where cameras are (as they do with fixed speed cameras). This could, therefore, be an example of AI saving lives and making the roads safer by changing driver behaviour. Furthermore, it could provide job and investment opportunities in a growing market for AI based surveillance technology, as it has for companies like Acusensus (i.e. the makers of the cameras).

For those who are worried that AI is ‘taking over’ and being trusted fully with important decisions (e.g. whether a driver gets points on their licence, thereby affecting their livelihood), the Acusensus system used by the Police in Cornwall uses human checks for each image flagged as showing a potential offence, thereby providing a failsafe stage. Judging by the success in Cornwall and in other trials, we may well see more specialised AI camera systems, focused on tackling specific problems, deployed in the near future.

Security Stop Press : Flaw Allows Hackers To Control Surveillance Cameras

It’s been reported that a BBC investigation has uncovered tech flaws in two top brand, Chinese-made surveillance cameras that could enable hackers to control them and spy on businesses and organisations or use the flaws as a Trojan horse to interfere with computer networks. The software backdoor flaws in the Hikvision and Dahua are now being addressed through firmware updates.