16 Apr

Emotion detection could increase driver safety

When it comes to driver safety, many often think of factors such as driver fatigue, speeding and general reckless behaviour.

However, another large factor that is often forgotten about is the emotional state of the person behind the wheel. We may become more aware of this factor when reports come out regarding road rage, but even the non-explicit emotional responses we experience behind the wheel can have an impact on how we drive. A very basic example is that if we feel agitated or angry, we may end up driving more aggressively.

Considering the fact that our emotional state while driving can influence us, researchers at Switzerland-based university École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have been testing a facial camera technology that can detect a person’s emotional state, based off the seven fundamental emotions we universally experience: fear, anger, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise, or suspicion.

Through these seven emotions, they were hoping to identify the more specific emotion of irritation. However, given the expansive number of ways in which individuals can express irritation – a facial tic, slight grimace, or even a completely indifferent expression – researchers opted to identify the base emotions of anger and disgust instead, which can bear similarities to irritation.

While such research is in its infancy (and results were positive from initial testing), the interest in using facial recognition technology in cars could be the first sign of an aim to improve driver safety by mapping our emotional states.

Considering cars are becoming much smarter, with semi-automated functions (e.g. collision detection, automatic parking, etc.) or even complete autonomy (Google’s self-driving cars), it’s not hard to imagine a future that also includes technology that can detect when we’re tired or emotionally frustrated.

When looking at it as a technology of the future, such detection being integrated with a level of smart car automation means that when we start to tire or become agitated while behind the wheel, our vehicles could theoretically take appropriate measures to protect us. If tired, the vehicle could inform us we need to pull over and rest. If angry, perhaps the vehicle could start playing music that calms us down or even take over controlling the car until we level out.

The idea of vehicles becoming almost entirely autonomous may not appeal to everyone, but the potential is there to change the very face of safety on the road.

Do you think emotion detection in vehicles could be a good way of increasing driver safety? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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