Math Professor Invents Non-Reversing Mirror

by James Anderson on November 18, 2012

non reversing mirrorWhen you look in a normal mirror, the image you see of yourself is in reverse. But a mirror invented by Drexel University mathematics professor Dr. R. Andrew Hicks shows you your face without reversing its image. Other trick mirrors can show a non-reversed image to a viewer by locating two mirrors at right angles, such that looking at the glass shows basically a reflection of a reflection. The Hicks non-reversing mirror is different- it is one single, smooth curved piece of glass which shows a non-reversed image.

Hicks’s work with remarkable mirrors gained media attention this past summer when one of his inventions, a driver’s side mirror that eliminates the blind spot with minimal distortion, received a U.S. Patent. The curved driver’s side mirror has a field of view of about 45 degrees, compared with 15 to 17 degrees of view in a regular driver’s side mirror.  (“Wide angle substantially non-distorting mirror” United States Patent 8180606)

Now his non-reversing mirror is getting another kind of attention. It is now on display as part of an art exhibition in a New York City gallery by artist Robin Cameron, who was inspired by Hicks’s story after she discovered it through online research. Hicks and Drexel University have loaned her the non-reversing mirror for use in her group of artworks entitled “P-R-O-C-E-S-S-E-S.”

“The mirror specifically relates to this particular grouping of work because it is about process. I wanted to know more about what leads someone to make a non-reversing mirror,” Cameron said.

Wanted: Applications

lens designHicks’s road to becoming a mirror inventor started with a background in hobbyist electronics tinkering, a formal mathematics education, and postdoctoral work in computer science, before continuing the work as a professor at Drexel. He first started mathematical manipulations of reflective surfaces when developing vision control mechanisms for soccer playing robots, employing curved mirrors placed on of top the robots’ heads to give a 360 degree view.

He went on to design computer algorithms to cleverly manipulate the angles of curved mirror surfaces so distortions in the reflection are precisely controlled. The precise manipulations change the directions light rays are reflected off of the surface in a manner similar to changing the angles of millions of tiny facets on a flattened disco ball, but decreasing the size of each facet until a smooth surface is achieved.

Hicks looks on the non-reversing mirror as an interesting novelty and is searching for practical applications beyond art galleries. “I always thought it would make a great toy,” Hicks said. “People often think that such a thing should be impossible, and they want to hold it and look at it from different angles. It’s sort of as if some object from an M.C. Escher print existed in the real world.”

Well, how about it, you guys. Can you think of any useful applications for this invention? Post them in the comments below. I think it might be good to have this for a rear-view mirror in a car, so can read street signs you just passed when you’re lost.