Researchers developing ‘empathic’ car technology

Psychology graduates aiming to enable cars to pick up on emotions and other states

A driver simulation test in Sensum’s lab. Photograph: Sensum

A driver simulation test in Sensum’s lab. Photograph: Sensum


Technology to allow cars to react to the feelings of a driver are in the early stage of development in a project between Queen’s University Belfast graduates and tech company Sensum.

The researchers are aiming to make transport safer, more comfortable and more enjoyable by enabling a vehicle to pick up on the emotions and other states, such as stress, of a driver and respond to them by, for example, adjusting climate settings or offering to switch to self-driving mode.

Sensum’s in-house lab has been the base for researching human emotion and cognitive states, containing an immersive driving simulator with sensors measuring physiological changes, facial expressions, voice patterns and more.

The company itself builds artificial intelligence solutions to measure and understand human emotions and behaviour.

New generation

Two Queen’s University psychology graduates, Christine Spencer and Dr Daniel Moore, are taking part in a full-time knowledge transfer partnership that brings business and academics together to work on specific projects.

“Empathy is becoming a major step forward for artificial intelligence so our work is contributing to a new generation of smart technology that can interact with people in increasingly personalised and helpful ways,” said Dr Moore.

The research is unique in taking a universal approach to empathic artificial intelligence in an effort to take account of as many different modes of human body data as possible.

In addition to collecting data in the lab, the work has explored driver emotions on the road and, in response to requests from some of Sensum’s customers, there’s been a focus on driver stress. Sensum clients include Jaguar and Ford.

“We are exploring new scientific insights for application in real-life scenarios,” Ms Spencer said.

“When the findings of your research contribute to new products from global business customers it challenges you to design practical experiments and collect robust data.”