At the Viva Technology conference in Paris, an intriguing vehicle cabin opened its doors. Global automotive supplier Valeo, in partnership with AI startup Sensum, demonstrated how a future car will read and respond to human emotions. Does that sound creepy or cool?
- Empathic technology has gotten affordable enough to turn cars into therapists.
- The technology reads physiological response to determine passengers’ moods and emotional well being.
- Based on data, the vehicle cabin will respond with sensory stimulation, like smell and lighting, to optimize passenger experience.
- Empathic AI Technology brings up questions of privacy and data usage, but could also be beneficial for stopping distracted, tired and even drunk driving.
Before we dive into the ramifications of that question, let’s take a closer look at how this works. The cabin will respond to create a personalized driving experience to improve safety and comfort by reading a passengers’ physiological and emotional state. For example, the system monitors fatigue and distraction, while creating a calm and energizing environment.
Through sensors placed strategically within the cabin, the Valeo system creates a physiological and emotional passenger profile. From this profile, each person will receive a customized set of multisensory stimulus to create what is called a “comfort bubble”. For example, the cabin will adjust light, fragrance, sound and thermal sensations to each individual.
Empathic Artificial Intelligence
Using Sensum’s ‘empathic AI’ technology to interpret the data sent from the sensors, the system can detect even subtle changes in a person’s physiology. Sensum’s technology operates on a model of multimodal sensor fusion, which means it’s taking readings from a variety of sources to gain a complete picture. Those sources include both personal and environmental components. Sensors track biometrics such as heart rate, skin conductance, facial expression and voice, while others provide context by gathering data from location, speed, product information and telematics.
From this data, Sensum can analyze a person’s emotions and other cognitive states, such as stress, fatigue and distraction. In effect, the system is reading and responding to human feelings based on scientific measurements.
Since high-tech costs have leveled out, the automotive industry can now afford to equip its cars with empathic Artificial Intelligence. In practical terms, we could see a vehicle detecting when a driver is intoxicated or tired and trigger sensory countermeasures. Additionally, if the cabin senses a driver is stressed, frustrated or angry, it could implement comfort or entertainment features.
Creating A Comfort Bubble
While the “comfort bubble” sounds interesting, I’m not sure how it will be implemented so that passenger experience doesn’t overlap. Sensations reverberate, but those can be isolated by having seats independent of each other. What I’m more concerned about is smell. Odors travel. I’m interested to see how the system plans to deal with that in a small, closed area without literally putting passengers in isolated chambers within the car.
The idea of having my car respond to my needs sounds luxurious, even indulgent. Based on the described experience, it sounds like going into a spa. Better even. Nobody at the spa is taking my biological measurements to determine the best way to stimulate my senses for an ideal experience.
Who will Manage And Protect Our Physiological Data?
And then there is my skeptical side; a car monitoring me also seems invasive, perhaps a bit big brother-ish, bringing up a lot of questions. What if I don’t want to my state changed to what is predetermined best for me in a forced attitude adjustment? What if I can’t stand the smell that’s supposed to relax me? Will I be able to turn off the system?
Also, the car will be collecting a lot of my personal health data, such as heart rate, pulse, etc. We have HIPPA laws to protect medical information from being misused. Will car companies sell my data or will insurance companies or medical professionals deny me service based on stats from my car?
We are moving into a future world where we won’t have to control our cars anymore. And, while I like the idea of the car safely controlling itself, I’m wary of it controlling me.