360-Degree Cameras Help You Park Like a Pro

Parking can be challenging – squeezing a large vehicle into a small spot is a test every driver knows well. One technology developed in the past 20 years has significantly increased the confidence of drivers everywhere, especially drivers of large vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks: the 360-degree car camera.

We’ll look into how 360-degree cameras work, which cars have them, if they’re worth the added expense, and whether you can add a 360-degree camera system to a car that wasn’t built with one. 

What Is a 360-Degree Camera?

A 360-degree camera provides drivers with a real-time view of the area around their car, usually extending out several feet. They’re also known as bird’s-eye cameras, top-view cameras, or surround-view cameras. A 360-degree camera can help drivers park their vehicle in a tight spot and avoid curbs, pets, and small children. 

How Do 360-Degree Car Cameras Work?

A 360-degree camera system uses multiple cameras placed around a vehicle to provide a single, unified image of what’s going on around a car. 

Typically, the individual cameras that make up a 360-degree system are located on the front and rear bumpers and on both sides of the vehicle. Automakers have found ways to hide the cameras in inconspicuous areas, such as inside the grille, underneath the side mirrors, or inside an emblem (as shown below). The images from each camera are “stitched together” by a computer in the car to create a single, live image of the surrounding area. (Similar to the way smartphones can create a panoramic image from several photos taken at different angles.)

Usually, the single image is a top-down view, though some systems allow you to zoom in on one specific area near the vehicle.

To access the 360-degree camera, drivers either place the vehicle in Reverse or tap a “Camera” button on the dashboard. From there, the majority of functions can be handled through the infotainment-system controls. 

What Makes a Good 360-Degree Camera?

The best 360-degree camera systems have the following:

  • High-resolution image
  • Large screen
  • No obvious “seams” between the individual camera images
  • Guidelines to show where your tires are aiming
  • Simulated top-down view showing the car in the middle
  • Button on the dashboard to activate on demand
  • Additional angles for more detail (showing front and side curbs, for instance)

Some vehicles have even more clever features, such as Chevrolet trucks, which can show the view behind a trailer as if the trailer weren’t there.

Can You Add a 360-Degree Camera to a Car?

Yes, a handy DIY car owner can add an aftermarket 360-degree camera system to their vehicle. Aftermarket kits include several cameras and a controller to link them to your infotainment screen.

While these aftermarket cameras can provide you with a better view than a rearview camera, or no camera at all, they aren’t as clear as the ones that automakers install at the factory. Aftermarket systems are also harder to integrate into your car’s design, need to be calibrated, and won’t work as seamlessly with your infotainment system as a factory camera.

History of the 360 Car Camera

Nissan is credited with developing the first surround-view camera for production vehicles. The feature first appeared at the end of 2007 on the Japanese-market Nissan Elgrand and the U.S.-market Infiniti EX35. To give drivers that 360-degree view, Nissan added three additional cameras to its rear-facing unit. In these vehicles, one camera is located in the front grille and the other two are integrated into the bottoms of the exterior side mirrors, a design still used by most automakers today.

Are Surround-View Car Cameras Worth the Expense? 

While pricey, 360-degree cameras are well worth the expense. More people are buying big SUVs and trucks each year, and low-speed accidents in parking lots continue to account for a large portion of crashes. A 360-degree camera gives drivers an even more complete view, further preventing low-speed crashes during parking.