Ford Working on Voice and Facial Recognition Software to Detect Driver Mood
“Empathetic Car” May Be Able to Alleviate Road Rage, Prevent Drowsiness
In a move that comes straight from science fiction, Ford is working on the technology that would give its cars the ability to discern their owners’ moods and habits by picking up on facial expressions, vocal inflection, and other behaviors. The idea expands beyond mere voice recognition, which Automotive News predicts will be present in 90 percent of model-year 2022 cars.
Ford says such advanced systems would be equipped with sophisticated microphones and in-car cameras, which would be able to discern the driver’s temperament and offer solutions based on that information. For example, the vehicle could hypothetically learn what kinds of music a driver selects when he or she is in a bad mood, then suggest those tunes if appropriate. Furthermore, such technology could expand to include gesture controls, such as picking up a phone call with the nod of a head or setting navigation destination by glancing at the map screen.
Fatima Vital, the senior director for Marketing Automotive at Nuance Communications, suggests the car might become a better friend through its technology. “We’re well on the road to developing the empathetic car, which might tell you a joke to cheer you up, offer advice when you need it, remind you of birthdays, and keep you alert on a long drive,” Vital said. Nuance predicts that within just a few years, cars will be able to remind us of our grocery needs, suggest a flower order for Mother’s Day, and provide navigation suggestions that match a driver’s mood, e.g., a less congested, less stressful route (that might take a bit longer) if the driver’s had a bad day at work.
Ford is currently running a research project with the German university RWTH Aachen that uses multiple microphones to improve speech recognition and filter external noise and disruptions. Such a project will make voice recognition software more natural, taking into account a person’s accents and personal phrasing. And with Ford’s participation in cloud-based technology, speaking to a vehicle in one’s own native tongue could soon be easier and more effective, according to the company.
Of note, Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system is already one of the more logical, easy-to-use interfaces in new cars today, featuring Android Auto, Apple CarPlay with Siri Eyes Free, and, coming this year, Amazon Alexa connectivity. The company says such technology is already bringing the company closer to car-as-assistant territory, so its predictions of a more loving, sensitive vehicle aren’t too far-fetched.
So does that mean you'll be able to make friends with your 2019 Ford Ranger? There are a few caveats. Cameras and microphones aimed at the driver could be a scary proposition for some, and they raise all kinds of privacy concerns. For example, if the vehicle were leased or borrowed, who would own the information, the vehicle owner or the driver? Could footage be used against the vehicle owner in court if he or she were to get into an accident? These are the social challenges in-car tech faces. It’s an intriguing proposition, regardless of how it all shakes out.