Emotion-detecting cars

ADVERTORIAL — It’s a well known fact that the majority of road accidents are caused by human error. Consequently, engineers around the world are attempting to change drivers’ behaviour in order to make cars safer. In the United States and Sweden, Google and Volvo are striving to create a self-driving car. Here, insurers are trying to encourage safer driving by installing speed-monitoring devices in car engines. However, in Europe, researchers want to give your car a way of monitoring much more than just your speed… Say hello to empathetic cars that can sense your emotions!

Current research
Over the past few years, facial recognition research — and technology — has advanced rapidly. One of the largest research facilities in the field, the Signal Processing Laboratory 5 (LTS5), is currently developing potential applications for this technology in cars.

Why? Simply because a person in the throes of a strong emotional outburst tends to be a worse driver than a person who is calm. Irritation and fatigue are among the worst culprits and are at the root of many road accidents. Consequently, researchers at LTS5 are focused on automated facial-expression tracking for drivers. This type of empathetic car could potentially reduce the number of accidents on the road by reacting to the emotional state of its driver, and setting a temporary speed limit, for example. It must be said, however, that the technology hasn’t been perfected yet. Test results so far reveal too much imprecision to allow the technology to be brought to market in the short term.

What is the advantage for drivers?
Why would drivers want a device like this in their cars? It is, after all, a tad invasive to be watched by a machine.

First of all, it could reduce your risk of accidents. It might be annoying to be told to calm down by your car, but it’s catastrophically more annoying to be in a severe car accident. Secondly, this technology could open the door to insurance premiums “validated” by monitoring your facial expressions.

Discounts are already offered to people with good driving records. Now just imagine if you could prove to your insurer that you were a calm, attentive driver. There’s no guarantee that insurance companies will jump on board to adapt their products to this new technology, even if it does appear on the market, but there’s no question that it creates the potential for insurers to offer interesting new options. Will they want to encourage courtesy and calm behind the wheel by offering rebates and bonuses? Will they want to punish drivers for impatience and road rage? Will consumers choose to buy these products of their own free will? Only the future will tell.

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