“Michael, I’m detecting elevated stress levels in your voice print. Is something going wrong?” is exactly the sort of line you’ll hear spoken by the fictional KITT in Knight Rider from time to time. And with a patent it just filed for an in-car system, Ford plans to release an in-car system that will behave as intelligently as KITT.
The patent is titled “Emotive text to speech system and method” and it’s designed to make an in-car system much smarter at understanding your voice commands–it sounds like an even smarter version of Mercedes’ Attention Assist package that’s due in cars soon. So when speaking a sentence like, “I feel like driving fast today” the in-car GPS will be prompted to ask you if it should route you along freeways by preference. In essence, the advanced system will enable you to interact with a car’s automated systems in a more “natural” way.
Also included in the patent is the concept that the car will be able to detect your emotional state–to a limited extent–react accordingly, and even emote right back at you. The system will include sensors that look at the driver’s body position, stress patterns in their voice, and other biometric markers, and if it concludes that the driver’s angry, for example, it may display “sympathy” with a graphical avatar that recolors itself blue and puts on a “concerned facial expression.” The ongoing conversation would be influenced by the perceived driver emotion, with the system perhaps understanding whether the driver is late for work and then offering to forward a message.
Alternatively there’s location-based services: You can ask if there are good restaurants nearby, prompting the car to hunt for data, and then direct you to the one you choose. There’s even an eco-friendly mode whereby the car detects “harsh” or fuel-guzzling driving. The car then becomes sad to attract the driver’s attention, and when asked why, it could even respond with “Your driving is hurting my fuel efficiency. You might want to cut down on the frequent acceleration and deceleration.”
The patent describes the whole system as being a fully integrated car electronics package, with sensors to check on driver head position, smile index, lip movements, and even an “occupant recognition” system that could (just possibly) negate the need for physical keys. It’ll make use of in-car wireless and a common data bus that links the sensors to the computer and communications equipment, and includes a display and associated processing tech that’s sophisticated enough to actually draw a 3D avatar that represents the car’s personality.
All of this sounds extremely KITT-like, and represents a dramatic progression from existing car and navigation technology. My family has named our GPS Sophie Ellis (thanks to her posh English tones,) and she frequently gets shouted at due to her odd inability to correctly identify one-way streets where we live–I’m not entirely sure that society is ready for a smart car system that would listen and then actually shout back. It’s a good job that it’ll take many years of research before we start seeing Ford’s smart car assistant glowing in our dashboard displays.