IF YOU’VE ever been on the wrong end of a road rage incident then you’ll know that stress and cars don’t mix, which is why new research into “empathetic vehicles”, which detect the onset of motorists’ anger and stress, is being seen as a major step towards improving road safety.
AutoEmotive, a project by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing just such a car. Its Audi test vehicle uses bio-sensors in door handles and the steering wheel to detect forceful grasping, sweat and heart rate. Combined with microphones that can pick up pitch and volume changes in a driver’s voice and vigorous touch interactions with the sat-nav, MIT says it can accurately determine stress levels of the driver.
The bio-sensors can also predict when the driver is close to a moment of rage and warn them by changing the colour of lights around the dashboard. The idea is that drivers are then able to deal with the situation before it’s too late.
“If a car detects the driver is overly stressed, it may recommend listening to relaxing music or to reduce the temperature inside the car,” said Daniel MacDuff, one of the researchers. “If the driver is too calm or tired, a more active song may be suggested.”
The voice of the sat-nav could also be modified to mirror the emotional state of the driver and build empathy.
If the concept catches on, stress hotspots in cities could be identified by uploading to a central database drivers’ bio-data, which could then map the most common locations where motorists are on edge. Motorists could then be warned if they are approaching these hotspots. Combined with traffic flow information the results could help city planners to redesign these areas to reduce driver frustration.
The MIT researchers also believe that indicating stress levels to other road users can improve safety. Using thermo-chromatic colour-changing paint, cars could warn people in the vicinity of rising stress levels, which could encourage them to keep a greater distance. Rosalind Picard, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, told The Times that continuing development of “conductive paint” was vital to the project.