Business Today

Your Car Knows It All

With all that tech packed into your smart vehicle, you will not be able to hide your anger.
Team BT   New Delhi     Print Edition: May 5, 2019
Your Car Knows It All

If you own a high-end car, it may already have the ability to know a few things about how you are feeling. With sensors and cameras everywhere, some vehicles can detect when the driver is feeling sleepy. Then the steering wheel buzzes to wake her up; the vehicle can even change course to make it to the nearest coffee shop.

But drowsy drivers are not the only threat to safe driving. Road rage is a more common problem and companies are exploring how to equip cars with the ability to detect anger before it does any damage. More than a year ago, experiments were held on combining facial recognition technology with biometric sensors which could measure heart rate, breathing pattern and sweating to measure stress levels.

These sensors were meant to look at conditions inside the vehicle rather than focussing on the outside, and respond better to in-vehicle conditions to make driving safer. When a driver's stress level peaked, several lights on the body of the Ford car (tested for this purpose) came on to warn others. An Irish company called Sensum outfitted the car with sensors to pick up on what it called the 'buzz' moments and give the driver feedback.

Emotion-sensing technology for cars is still under development, and great care should be taken not to disturb or distract drivers when it is activated. A company aptly called Affectiva and incepted at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab is pioneering affective computing and exploring solutions around drivers' emotion tracking. The new field is known as automotive artificial intelligence (AI) and addresses next-generation safety features, including advanced monitoring of a driver's state of mind, in-vehicle child presence detection, and more. The company has deployed its empathic AI solutions across industry segments and many of these are used to measure consumers' emotional responses to digital content such as ads and TV programmes.

Affectiva's automotive AI unobtrusively measures complex and nuanced emotional and cognitive states from facial expressions and voice data. Copious amounts of data is collected from sensors and fed into a neural network to monitor the driver's anger so that interventions and route alternatives can be enabled to avoid road rage. A virtual assistant guides the driver to take a deep breath, the person's preferred playlist for soothing music gets turned on and the GPS suggests a stop along the way. In brief, the next generation in-cabin software is driven by customised deep learning architectures, computer vision, speech processing and massive amounts of real-world data. This will enable intervention, including taking control of the car and handing it back.

Given how automotive AI is developing, Affectiva thinks consumers will now pay as much attention to in-cabin experience as they do to vehicle hardware. And they will be keen to find out which car can keep them most safe, entertained and relaxed. Original equipment manufacturers should also have a good understanding of drivers' emotions and their reactions to vehicle systems and driving experience.

The Bible Bot Is Here

A robot that reads the Bible should not surprise us overmuch. Our smartphones can do the job if you download an app or an e-book. But SanTO is different. It is a little statue-like robot that looks like a figurine of a saint and can recognise the kind of mood you are in and what you need to hear, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Equipped with a computer, a microphone, and facial recognition technology, SanTO can listen to people, scan their faces for signs of specific emotions and put that to good use as it rapidly scans through the text and reads out what it thinks fit. Fortunately, the robot does not take it into its head to go around offering interpretations and discourses - it only recites the text. In 2017, Germany's Protestant Church also created BlessU-2, a robot that can "bless" humans in five languages.

Developed by Gabriele Trovato, a robotics expert at Waseda University in Tokyo, SanTO has been used to read scriptures to older people in a nursing home. It also demonstrates that in the absence of humans to show such kindness, a robot might do very well as an alternative.

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