Efforts to develop self-driving vehicles have largely focused on tracking what's going on outside the cars--think laser-based sensors to track other vehicles and digital mapping technologies to help navigate. Now, the industry is turning some of its attention to technologies that sense what's going on inside the vehicle. An initial goal is to better monitor driver alertness to help reduce the number of car accidents. But if fully autonomous vehicles one day become the norm, having technology that can understand the mood and preferences of passengers might enable the vehicle to automatically make adjustments that improve the riding experience. The jury is still out on whether vehicle occupants will prefer that to controlling changes themselves, but companies are trying to develop the technological capabilities anyway.
The Robotics Summit and Showcase is just a couple months away. Find out all about our agenda here and register by April 20 for a 20% discount to learn from the best in the robotics industry. Affectiva Automotive AI hopes to improve driver safety. Artificial intelligence (AI), to date, has helped autonomous vehicles mainly by monitoring the world around them. As we learned from the fatal Uber self-driving car crash, unfortunately, the technology is not perfect.
Softbank Robotics today announced that its robot Pepper will now use emotion recognition AI from Affectiva to interpret and respond to human activity. Pepper is about four feet tall, gets around on wheels, and has a tablet in the center of its chest. The humanoid robot made its debut in 2015 and was designed to interact with people. Cameras and microphones are used to help Pepper recognize human emotions, like hostility or joy, and respond appropriately with a smile or indications of sadness. This type of intelligence likely comes in handy for the environments where Pepper operates, like banks, hotels, and Pizza Huts in some parts of Asia.
Nuance Communications is already well known for its tech industry innovations. It's been at the forefront of speech recognition software and has also made substantial inroads into the automotive industry. In fact, you'll find its Dragon Drive software in more than a few cars out there on the roads. But the company also works in a stack of other business sectors including healthcare, telecommunications, financial services and even retail. Now, though, the company is working with Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off and a leading provider of AI software that detects complex and nuanced human emotions and cognitive states from face and voice.
Last month, for the first time ever, a pedestrian was killed by an autonomous vehicle. Elaine Herzberg's death at the hands of a self-driving Uber vehicle in Arizona has spurred a crisis of conscience in the autonomous vehicle industry. Now, engineers and startups are scrambling to shift the focus to technology that they say could help prevent future self-driving collisions, especially as more and more autonomous vehicles are expected to hit the road in the future. One such startup is Renovo Auto, a Silicon Valley company that has developed an operating system that integrates all the software needed to run a fleet of autonomous vehicles. You might remember the Renovo Coupe, a $529,000 electric supercar with 1,000 pound-feet of torque and a 0–60 time of 3.4 seconds, or, more recently, its project to convert a DeLorean with an electric powertrain and then do autonomous donuts with it.