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Why Don't I Take the Wheel? Future Cars May Detect Stress, Rage
By Gwyn Topham
Posted: January 27, 2018 4:29pm PST

The potential for cars to tune into their driver's emotions is being explored by manufacturers, who believe a car which understands feelings could make driving safer.

Researchers hope to integrate biometric sensors into cars, allowing the vehicle to understand when a driver is tired or stressed. It could then issue prompts or alerts, or potentially take over the wheel in extreme circumstances.

Cars would be able to combine facial recognition technology with sensors tracking pulse, breathing rate and sweat.

Scientists at Ford are collaborating in an EU-funded project developing advanced driver-assistance systems to enable cars to better respond to drivers' needs, by recognizing human emotional states rather than just physical road conditions.

Ford demonstrated an early-concept prototype, a customized Ford Focus RS, in London on Tuesday, which lit up according to the mood of its driver, who was wired up with fitness trackers and skin sensors. A computer then interpreted the biometric data to make thousands of LED lights in the side windows flicker along with the driver's stress levels.

On a cold, wet day in Stratford's Olympic Park, under the tuition of stunt driver Paul Swift, the Guardian put the emoting Focus through its paces: pedal to the floor and steering wheel locked hard left, with every bead of sweat illuminated in patterns on the windows.

A succession of barely controlled doughnut maneuvers culminated with a panicked lurch and solid contact between the driver's cheekbone and the internal circuitry. The Focus flashed a brilliant white.

"That was what we call a 'buzz moment,' a peak moment of emotional activity," said Dr Cavan Fyans, chief technology officer of Sensum, the Belfast-based empathic technology company which souped-up Ford's car. "Your heart rate was elevated by 25%, your galvanic skin response was up by 25% -- roughly one microsiemens."

Such moments, Fyans said, are good for the driver -- a claim which Ford is using to shift more sports cars. However, the applications will go beyond that, he said. "If you're stressed, nervous, distracted, we can detect these things. This is a big emerging market. A lot of automobile manufacturers are working out how to humanize the technology: the autonomous vehicle people know how to map the world and track other cars, but not much about the people inside them.

"A self-driving car which knows how you are feeling could reassure a stressed passenger, or if you're happy about it being in control, just do its thing."

© 2018 Guardian Web. Syndicated here under contract with YellowBrix, Inc. All rights reserved.

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