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Aptiv Wants to Use AI Software to Read Vehicle Occupants’ Moods

The company is partnering with AI developer Affectiva.

Self-driving cars use an array of sensors to “see” the world around them, but those sensors may also soon point inward. Automotive tech firm Aptiv has entered into a partnership with Affectiva, a developer of artificial-intelligence (AI) software, to develop sensing systems for monitoring vehicle occupants.

Aptiv, which made a minority investment in Affectiva as part of the deal, wants future self-driving cars to be able to track passengers’ emotional and cognitive states. A “multi-modal interior sensing solution” will be based around Affectiva’s software, which uses real-world data to identify people’s moods, an Aptiv press release said. Aptiv, which is partnering with Lyft on autonomous-driving tech, views this as a natural extension of sensor suites that monitor conditions around the car.

“Just as perception and detection of objects outside the vehicle are critical enablers of autonomous driving, there is an increasing need for intelligent sensing inside the cabin,” Aptiv CEO Kevin Clark said in a statement.

Other companies are thinking along the same lines. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, Kia will demonstrate technology designed to identify vehicle occupants’ emotions. Kia’s experimental system, called READ (short for Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving) was developed in concert with the MIT Media Lab, which Affectiva was spun out of.

Israeli tech company Vayyar Imaging claims it can use sensors to do things like monitor passengers’ breathing, and keep track of how many people are in a car. Vayyar uses a radar-based sensor to do this, but Affectiva’s tech reads non-verbal cues like facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. That means it will likely require onboard cameras to record video and audio of passengers.

Monitoring of passengers may become common once cars begin driving themselves.  Without human drivers onboard, cars will need some mechanism for detecting medical emergencies or other issues. Companies may also use the tech to gather data on how customers react to riding in their vehicles, or to the media content and advertising that will likely get piped into cars’ dashboard screens. Cars that spy on their passengers may just be part of the autonomous-driving bargain.