Each year new technologies improve safety and enhance the driving experience of Volvo vehicles. However, tech-related features and options available within vehicles today become outdated within a matter of months and just a few years from now the technology gap will be even more significant. To bridge divide, technology companies such as Pearl Automation, Inc. (Pearl) are developing aftermarket hardware and software solutions specific to the automotive industry.

There is a growing space within the automotive industry known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). Tech such as blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance systems, lane departure warning systems, and tire pressure monitoring are ADAS. Companies like Pearl are adapting these modern technologies into products that can be integrated into vehicles that did not come equipped with the technology.

Owners will no longer have to wonder what it would be like to have modern technologies and ADAS for their well-traveled Volvo 850 wagon. The first of Pearl’s convenience and safety products is the rear anti-collision system, RearVision. Not only is the product slick, the company was founded by three of the best from Apple.

Pearl is a technology company focused on making the latest automotive technology available to every driver, whether it’s a new or old car. The company is advancing the underlying technologies in the safety and convenience autonomous vehicle to improve the experience for every driver on the road today. The three co-founders met at Apple where they lead teams on the ground-breaking iPod and iPhone products. The team at Pearl focus on products that will deliver advanced and adaptive features to the more than one billion cars on the road today.

Some 2016 model year Volvo models had a rear-view camera as an option, surprising for a safety minded company. If you have an older Volvo and never experienced a back-up camera, it is a worthy piece of technology for driver’s and pedestrians, animals and things outside of a vehicle. Driver’s cannot always see what’s behind his or her vehicle, nor detect objects or another vehicle approaching from the side. RearVision delivers an advanced rearview camera and alert system in a package that is extremely easy to install into any 1996 or newer Volvo with an OBD-II port.

Like Apple, the Pearl team focused on high-quality package design for the RearVision. The materials protect the electronic components and the graphic design elements are modern with a clean design. The fonts, typography and illustrations used within the instruction are effective and easy to read. The feel and sheen of the paper exude quality. Pearl’s investment into package design was my first indication that the company is seriously focused on delivering superior products and customer experiences.

Traditionally, adding a backup camera required running wires and tapping into reverse light wiring harness and a video cable to the back of an aftermarket headunit, which an owner may have been installing at the same time. The installation process could consume a full day, with clean-up and adjustments the following day. The most complex install I have performed on a Volvo has been with the first-generation Volvo XC90 with its MOST fiber optic network. Integrating a Kenwood stereo headunit along with a backup camera required unique wiring harness adapters and fitting wires from the rear to the front of the XC90. Now, for owners of 2003 to 2014 XC90s the RearVision provides a backup solution in minutes.

Our latest swedespeed project car is a 2013 Volvo C30 Polestar Limited Edition. In the U.S. Volvo did not offer a rearview camera for the C30, nor were its generation siblings with the waterfall center console. If you own a C70 convertible, S40 sedan or a V50 wagon, or even a later model V60 or XC70 wagon, the RearVision product is an excellent option for integrating a backup camera and alert system.

To provide a benchmark, I timed the installation process and while I am handy with tools and do not mind taking things apart, sometimes even the “easiest” of projects can go sideways and consume more time than expected. Pearl included a Volvo specific license plate bracket that is a modified version of the original Volvo bracket along with the OBD adapter and vent mount for the phone. I already had a windshield phone mount in place for using Navigation apps and did not use the vent mount included in the kit. After five minutes and four seconds I was done with the install. The time also included downloading the software application to my phone. I did not include the time it took me to find my 10mm socket to remove the license plate frame nuts because you probably remember where you last used your tools.

If you are not comfortable performing the installation, Pearl partnered with InstallerNet, a Boston-based company that provides automotive fit and compatibility data for consumer electronics products servicing manufacturers, retailers and insurance companies. Through the company’s nationwide network of certified technicians, Pearl customers will now have a convenient alternative for installation, setup and product demonstration. I completed the entire installation in just over five minutes, including downloading the app to my iPhone.

How does it work?
RearVision combines hardware with software to deliver an intelligent and complete solution. Cutting-edge camera technology, efficient solar panels and vision algorithms powered by a high-performance processor deliver exception video quality when you need to see what is behind the vehicle day or night. The RearVision solution includes three main components:

The Camera Frame:
The weatherproof, unibody aluminum Camera Frame installs securely around your license plate, connecting wirelessly to the Car Adapter in your car’s diagnostics port.

The Car Adapter:
The Car Adapter connects to the Camera Frame and your phone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. By plugging into the car’s OBD port, it receives data like vehicle speed to manage when to show video in the app.

The Pearl App:
Once launched, Pearl App displays video of what's behind and around your car right on your Android or iPhone. You can tap to switch between different views and the Pearl Phone Mount is included for easy viewing in portrait or landscape mode. The app launches automatically upon entering the car as it's triggered by the magnetic connection from mounting the phone. On Android, the magnetic pull triggers the app to open automatically, on iOS a push notification is sent.

Powering two precise HD cameras, the RearVision frame uses solar panels that charge in both direct sunlight and indirect light through clouds. No drilling or wire splicing is required to power the unit. The built-in battery will story energy to assist during less sunny times of the year. There is a pigtail USB charging cable integrated into the back of the frame that can be extended to provide a charge for driver’s that do not receive enough light for a charge. When fully charged the RearVision can last up to three weeks in zero sunlight.

One of the HD cameras operates within the infrared spectrum for night vision, and the second is optimized for daytime. Each has a custom, seven-element lens with up to 180° field of view and a hydrophobic coating to repel water droplets in rainy weather. An advanced image processor manages exposure and corrects distortion in real-time for reliably clear, super-wide-angle views.

RearVision’s obstacle alerts are powered by cutting-edge stereo-vision algorithms. The Car Adapter’s eight-core processor runs billions of calculations per second to analyze images from both cameras while you’re backing up. When an obstacle is detected, a tone sounds from the built-in speaker in the ODB-II Car Adapter, and the object is highlighted in the Pearl App.

How is it to Use?
I have used RearVision extensively for more than a month and I appreciate its simplicity and integration. With my iPhone 7 Plus mounted in a portrait position, the two images are easy to view. The top image shows what is directly behind the vehicle and the bottom image is a wider angle. When rotating the phone to landscape mode, the wide-angle image goes full screen providing excellent video quality.

Even though the Volvo C30 is a small car, having the addition of the RearVision has helped in tight parking garages. The audible alert notification and visual ripple effect provide sufficient cues to the driver. The app does not automatically open when putting the vehicle in reverse. This is an Apple iOS limitation but even with this minor inconvenience, the Car Adapter on the OBD-II port will still produce audible alerts from the rear sensors.

Video quality is excellent while connected via WiFi but the image quality degreades with switching to Bluetooth. After the iPhone app is downloaded, users need to register online. This creates a unique link between the application and car adapter. To share the RearVision, users need to enter the same username and password on each device.

One of the nice features of the RearVision is that Pearl provides software updates. Since I received the unit, software release 1.45 (May 2017) enabled video when traveling above 10mph and detailed Camera Frame battery level details within the Settings menu. Version 1.5 (June 2017) added additional performance improvements and bug fixes.

What would make it better?
RearVision is a premium product from the packaging design to the industrial design of the Car Frame. A few tweaks to the product will make it fully integrated. The software application’s lack of an auto-launch capability when putting the vehicle is put into reverse detracts from the user experience. The Car Adapter also consumes the OBD port preventing you from using other OBD-powered products at the same time. If you drive multiple cars and use multiple RearVision products, you need to login with the same account credentials for each unit. I would recommend Pearl develop a family sharing solution with selectable profiles or selectable vehicles from a single account for households with several drivers or multiple RearVision installs. Overall, I recommend RearVision for Volvo models without a backup camera and park assist sensors. RearVision is an excellent solution worth paying a little more.

RearVision is the first product from Pearl and the bar has been set high for quality and craftsmanship. The co-founders have leveraged their product development experiences at Apple and delivered the first of what I hope are many automotive convenience and safety solutions. With a retail price of $499, RearVision is not inexpensive but it’s ease of installation is worth several hundred dollars of time and frustration wiring up a traditional backup camera. Pearl designed a comparison chart to help customers better understand the cost: https://pearlauto.com/comparison RearVision comes with a 3-year warranty and 30-day free returns. Additionally, the Car Frame can be moved from one Volvo to another in a matter of minutes adding tremendous flexibility.

As company, Pearl delivered its first product to market during 2016. Based on RearVision, I am confident their product pipeline will continue to impress consumers. Once the safety and convenience solutions have matured, I look forward to the addition of autonomous driving products. Perhaps we will see “FrontVision” combined with “SideVision” to stitch together a 360-degree birds-eye view like that found in Volvo’s SPA-platform vehicles. The Pearl software application has the potential to integrate vehicle diagnosis and data for driving enthusiasts. Pearl is well positioned to support and grow within the Volvo community. Perhaps Irv Gordon will consider one for his 3-million mile P1800.

Check out Pearl’s website for additional information or to purchase your RearVision wireless automotive backup camera and intelligent alert system. www.pearlauto.com

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