The Future of the Car is Emotional


Lightbulb sign that reds 'MOOD.'
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Human beings are emotional creatures. The way we are feeling has a huge impact on our behaviour, even when we're not aware of what we're feeling or of its impact. This naturally extends to driving. Every time we get behind the wheel of a car, we carry with us all the baggage that we've been carrying around throughout the day. Once on the road, the high stakes that are a natural part of sharing the road with others can provoke strong emotions and exacerbate those that are already there.


SRI International, an American nonprofit research institute, is all too aware of the way emotions impact our driving and has developed a project in coordination with Toyota that looks into how emotional artificial intelligence can be make smart cars that much safer.


The project has already produced great results, as SRI have developed what they call the Driver Monitoring System (DMS), which in 2020 won the Auto Sensor Innovation of the Year award.


"SRI's DMS uses a suite of infrared and three-dimensional cameras to track the driver's eye movements, facial expressions and general body language. A supervised machine learning platform... analyzes the driver's behavior in real time. It then identifies when someone is feeling drowsy and can even recognize emotional states that could affect driving, like anxiety or roadrage."

This information can translate into real-time interventions for improving safety:


"In response, the vehicle might blast the air conditioning to help a driver stay alert or possibly suggest an alternate route if it detects someone is bored or give more detailed directions if someone is nervous at an unfamiliar location."

While emotion-sensitive technology has been floated before, and some AI tech companies have even come out with some version of it, the technology on offer by SRI differs in that it is more comprehensive. While other emotional artificial intelligence tends to rely solely on eye-tracking technology, SRI's DMS goes beyond that with the understanding that the technology needs to be more adaptable if it is truly going to respond to a driver's emotions and to the myriad ways it can manifest.


The technology is also designed to improve as it collects more data, which is good considering how different people can display emotion in different ways. With SRI's DMS, the car analyzes the data and begins to tailor its technology to your own personal needs.


While in some ways this seems like seriously futuristic technology, it makes sense in this present moment where smart technology is making big inroads in the auto industry. Our emotional state is a critical component of determining how we drive and how we are able to respond to the environment around us. Smart technology that takes that seriously will go a long way in improving overall road safety.


For more on SRI International's project and emotional artificial intelligence, check out the original article by SRI International on Medium.