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Dual-Mode GPS Doubles As Vehicle Backup Camera

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Makers of portable navigation devices continue to add features to attract buyers. Now, there may be appeal within the construction industry for a wireless backup camera that is becoming almost standard equipment on many commercial vehicles.

Video appears when reverse gear is engaged.
Photo: Andrew G. Wright / ENR
Video appears when reverse gear is engaged.
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Nextar, La Verne, Calif., considered the construction market as one potential target when it developed and recently began selling the I4-BC GPS. Manufactured in China, the device is attracting interest with its camera fixed on the rear license-plate frame. The camera’s view automatically displaces the GPS map when the vehicle is put into reverse gear.

“With the GPS they can quickly see what’s right behind [them],” says Susan van Barneveld, a Nextar spokeswoman. She says the developers felt the camera could help reduce accidents and liability.

The I4-BC’s screen is mounted to the inside of the windshield with a conventional suction-cup bracket. But the bracket also houses a receiver for the camera’s wireless signal. The camera is built into another bracket that attaches to the rear license-plate mounting screws. It is wired to the backup lights, so it powers up automatically when the vehicle is put into reverse. The video overrides the map.

ENR tested a unit on a car and with a makeshift bench test. Mapping functions were acceptable, and the video image was serviceable, even in low light, appearing instantly when power was applied. The 4.3-in. screen shows a fish-eye view of the immediate area before the lens. But to be truly useful for displaying the area just behind the vehicle, the mounting position and angle need careful consideration.

Several online reviewers have applauded Nextar for a “great idea,” although there is grumbling about camera performance. One reviewer loved the idea, but called it “pathetic execution.”

Amazon.com consumer reviewer Michael N. Placito wrote that the GPS functioned exceptionally, but the camera was challenged by temperature changes. “It’s only a gimmick, especially if you live in the North where you get some chilly fall nights that mix with the heat of the day and causes condensation on the camera lens,” he wrote. Placito says that condition renders the camera “completely useless.” Other reviewers say the image can be washed out by strong sunlight.

If the idea is as good as reviewers say, the unit’s shortcomings could be overcome with better hardware. “Tuffcam” cameras, made by Subsea Video Systems, Elizabeth City, N.C., for example, are built for abuse. They tolerate temperatures from -40°F to +186°F, are shock resistant up to 1,000g and the internal cavity is injected with nitrogen to prevent condensation.

Tuffcams start at $475. The I4-BC GPS lists for $299.99 but is offered for $197.32 on amazon.com.

 

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