News

A Friendly Backseat Driver

As someone who’s driven a number of years for hundreds of thousands of miles, I normally don't like someone telling me how to drive. I'm guiding the car at a speed I feel comfortable with, see the road obstacles ahead, and (supposedly) know where I’m going. Well, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a robotic-based, intelligent vehicle driving companion that’s supposed to help – not hinder – the driver from reaching his or her destination, both safely and happily.

Called the Affective Intelligent Driving Agent or AIDA, the system was developed as collaboration between the Personal Robotics Group at the MIT Media Lab, MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, and the Volkswagen Group of America’s Electronics Research Lab. AIDA communicates with the driver through a small robot embedded in the dashboard. More advanced than existing vehicle GPS systems, AIDA is designed to analyze the driver’s mobility patterns, tracking common routes and destinations. After learning the driver’s mobility patterns and accounting for environmental conditions and events, the system would be able to help a driver steer clear of traffic jams. It could also give feedback to the driver on energy usage and safety issues.

AIDA is being promoted as a "friendly" driving companion, able to sense the driver’s mood. According to MIT, the robotic-based system would over time develop a symbiotic relationship with driver and form a bond. I'd like to see how the system soothes a frazzled, irritated driver who is stuck in traffic, late for an appointment, and not in any mood for pleasant conversation.

My concern regards the system's intelligence functions. How accurately can it sense impending traffic problems? Can the system's knowledge base be updated quickly enough to account for sudden changes in traffic or weather conditions that could adversely affect the driving experience? I’ve been using an aftermarket GPS for a year and have been the victim of misleading GPS instructions. Sure, the AIDA system can be a friendly companion. But can it provide the accurate, real-time information I need to get from point A to B?

Would you like a friendly robot in your vehicle as a backseat driver? What do you think?