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The History of Dash Cams - From Hand-Cranked to Facial Recognition - - BlackboxMyCar Canada

The History of Dash Cams - From Hand-Cranked to Facial Recognition

The hottest dash cam on the market right now is probably the BlackVue DR900X Plus and the Thinkware U1000 - both equipped with an 8MP image sensor, offers multiple parking surveillance modes, and can do so much more than just record your drive. Pair it with your smartphone, and you can control the camera and playback your 4K UHD footage anytime in just a few taps.

But dash cams were never this glorious. In fact, the dash cam has come a long way since William Harbeck brought a hand-crank camera onboard a Victoria streetcar to capture the ride for the motion picture screen.

So let’s take a trip down memory lane and explore the dash cam’s roots and how it became the trusty little camera we can’t leave home without today.

Prefer watching over reading? Here's our video on The History of Dash Cams.

May 1907 - Harbeck Captured the Road Ahead From A Moving Vehicle

The Daily Colonist, May 5th, 1907 - All day yesterday there toured round the city a man. On a street car specifically loaned for the purpose by the British Columbia Electric Railway company he traveled through the streets, and on a launch he journeyed up the Arm and along the water front, and all the while he devoted himself to a queer box-like piece of apparatus, turning a crank and adjusting it so the powerful lenses situated at the front could command the best views that were to be had… It is anticipated that the exhibition of the films of Victoria will prove a splendid advertisement for the city.

In hopes of attracting wealthy European travels and immigrant settlers, the Canadian Pacific Railway embarked on a project to produce and promote films about Canada’s westernmost provinces. American filmmaker William Harbeck was hired for the project. On May 4th, 1907, he caught a ride on a streetcar and filmed Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, with his hand-crank camera. Then, from Victoria, he traveled north to Nanaimo, stopping at the picturesque Shawnigan Lake before crossing to the mainland to Vancouver. He then traveled on the Canadian Pacific Railway “to get splendid views of the Fraser Canon (sic), and the glorious scenery between Yale and Lytton.”

While the hand-crank camera was no dash cam, William Harbeck captured the road ahead from the front of a moving vehicle, and he went on to produce 13 one-reelers for the railway company.

September 1939 - Movie Camera in Police Car Puts Evidence on Film

Fast-forward a few decades, in its September 1939 issue, Popular Science featured an article on a movie camera mounted in a police car.

Popular Science, September 1939 - Mounted on the dashboard of his patrol car, with its lens pointing forward through the windshield, a motion-picture camera belong to Officer H. Galbraith of the California Highway Patrol takes photographs of the automobiles he trails along the highways, making a permanent film record of any traffic violations for possible later use in court.

While it was not motion picture, the still photos were enough to produce an inarguable testimony in court.

October 1968 - Trooper TV

As time progressed, car cameras were still predominantly used in law enforcement vehicles, hence being dubbed Trooper TV in the October 1968 issue of Popular Mechanics. According to the magazine, a Sony camera would be mounted on the dash, with a small microphone hanging around the police officer’s neck. The back seat was taken up by the video recorder and monitor. The camera can record 30 minutes at a time, then the officer will need to rewind the tape to keep recording. While the camera automatically adjusted to the changing light levels during the day, the lens had to be adjusted three times: at the beginning of the shift, before noon, and at dusk. This camera setup cost around $2,000 at that time.

May 1988 - The First Police Car Chase Captured From Start to Finish

Then, in May 1988, Detective Bob Surgenor of the Berea Ohio Police Department captured the first-ever start-to-finish car chase with the video camera mounted in his car.

Unlike modern dash cams, these cameras were bulky and were held up by a tripod on the front or rear windows of the vehicle. And, everything then was recorded on VHS cassettes tapes. While they were of great help in depicting crime scenes and ensuring office safety, the transfer and storage of the recordings were very time-consuming.

Nevertheless, footage like this exploded in the 1990s and inspired popular shows like Cops and World’s Wildest Police Videos.

February 2013 - The Chelyabinsk Meteor: A YouTube Sensation

Dash cams were primarily found only in law enforcement vehicles until this point. Dash cams did not become accessible to the average citizen until 2009 when the Russian government made them legal to fight the surging amount of false insurance claims and police corruption.

So, when the Chelyabinsk Meteor exploded over the Russian skies in February 2013, over a million Russian drivers already had a dash cam in their car. The spectacular phenomenon was captured by dozens of Russian drivers, and within hours, people worldwide were watching the meteor on playback from all different angles.

Soon, drivers from Asia to Europe started mounting dash cams in their cars in hopes to capture all the things along on their drive, from insurance scams to the next crazy thing, like the missile landing a few feet in front of a car in Ukraine in 2014 and the TransAsia plane crash over a highway in Taiwan in 2015.

BlackboxMyCar was founded in 2012, so you could imagine how excited we were to see dash cam footage become the new YouTube sensation and even memes.

May 2012 - What was the first dash cam carried by BlackboxMyCar?

The first dash cams to be found on BlackboxMyCar were the FineVu CR200HD and CR300HD, and the BlackVue DR400G. Then between 2013 and 2015, more brands were added, including VicoVation and DOD from Taiwan, Lukas from South Korea, and Panorama from China.

Today, we carry a great selection of trusted brands on our website, including BlackVue, Thinkware, IROAD, GNET, BlackSys from South Korea, VIOFO from China, Nextbase from the UK, and Nexar from Israel.

Are all premium dash cams from South Korea?

There were about 350 dash cam manufacturers in Korea in 2019. Thinkware, BlackVue, FineVue, IROAD, GNET and BlackSys were just some of the well-known ones. And if you’re wondering why Korea? The growth of dash cams in Korea can be attributed to most car insurance companies offering attractive discounts if a dash cam is installed. With demand and fierce competition comes innovation, which is why Korean dash cams are typically more technically advanced than non-Korean brands.

For instance, BlackVue was the first dash cam manufacturer to introduce 4K video recording, Cloud functionality, and built-in LTE connectivity in a dash cam.

Why are dash cams not as popular in US and Canada as in other parts of the world?

Dash cams are still considered a niche market in North America despite their worldwide popularity. One reason is that the police and judicial systems in US and Canada are trusted to be fair and impartial - drivers don’t feel the need to protect themselves with a dash cam.

Also, only a handful of North American insurance companies offer discounts on premiums if you have a dash cam - so there really is no monetary incentive to have one in the car.

It will probably take some time for more insurance companies to jump on board. Still, we see that more and more North American drivers like yourself are starting to realize the other benefits of dash cams, especially how accurately and swiftly incidents are resolved thanks to captured footage.

The future of dash cams

The newer cars are designed with utmost emphasis on safety, and many of them already come with a built-in dash cam. For instance, Sentry Mode is one of the top-selling features of Tesla, a leading innovator in automobile technology. Sentry Mode is essentially an eight-camera monitoring system that captures a 360-degree view of your drive and when parked.

In other words, all signs point to increased adoption and the continual advancement of car camera features. Built-in dash cams are already a standard feature in many makes, including Subaru's Eyesight, Cadillacs' SVR system, Chevrolet's PDR system, and BMW's Drive Recorder, to name a few.

Unfortunately, as dash cam experts, we can confidently say that these built-in camera systems cannot replace the reliability and quality of a dash cam. We have had countless customers arrive with these very vehicles in our Install Service Centre, looking for a better solution.

So, what’s next? A vehicle intelligence system designed and engineered to make roads safer for everyone? How about driver facial recognition? Believe it or not, it’s slated to arrive at BlackboxMyCar this Spring!

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