Having sensors in cars is not new. Automakers first introduced rudimentary sensors such as warning lights for low oil pressure in the 1950s. It was simple engineering, but the sensors effectively alerted drivers to potential problems. As technology evolved, so did sensor capabilities and their applications in the auto industry.
By 2020, the average car had nearly 100 sensors (a Formula One racecar boasts more than 300 sensors), and this number is predicted to keep growing. Sensors are fundamental to safe driving --they keep us on the road and help us avoid potentially catastrophic accidents.
But are sensors ignoring one of the most important pieces of the puzzle -- us?
Until now, sensors in cars have focused externally, evaluating aspects of the vehicle itself and the surrounding environment. Consider the things sensors monitor in your own car: tire pressure, fuel level, speed, lane position, parking angle and more.
But this dynamic is changing because of the growing popularity of driver monitoring systems (DMS) that add AI-powered intelligent safety features to cars, which can detect the state and behavior of drivers.
For example, DMS can determine if a driver is experiencing symptoms of sickness or nausea and course correct the in-vehicle experience through controls such as regulating air conditioning or releasing aromatherapy, just as cruise control slows down or speeds up the vehicle depending on real-time sensor inputs.
Even more, through multimodal AI solutions, automakers can combine internal and external sensor intelligence to enhance vehicle performance.
Consider a scenario where a driver is growing sleepy behind the wheel. Traditional external sensors would observe tell-tale signs such as lane drift and alert the driver.
But wouldn’t the situation be safer if a combination of optical and physiological sensors also detected signs of drowsiness in the driver? These in-vehicle sensors would note the driver’s eyes closing, head movement, heart rate slowing down or other factors that indicate fatigue.
This triangulation of internal and external inputs could work together to determine unsafe driving and intervene, perhaps pulling over the vehicle or calling for help.
A world without speedometers?
Expansion of DMS in cars offers many benefits. First and foremost, there is increased driver safety. A better understanding of the state of the driver will decrease road accidents and fatalities.
Second, multimodal interior sensors will introduce a new era of health and wellness in cars by providing a clearer understanding of what’s happening with the people in a vehicle.
Beyond making driving safer, technology will make driving better for our bodies and minds. And finally, AI solutions will power driving experiences that are more engaging and entertaining.
Of course, some drivers are apprehensive about having AI (or more AI) in their cars. But emerging legislation and regulations will protect consumer privacy.
Also, in-vehicle multimodal sensors will operate in real time, meaning cars will only use data gathered to make in-the-moment inferences and suggestions, but won’t store the data long term or in the cloud.
Overcoming AI-sensor discomfort
Initial discomfort with increased AI might be the trade-off for making our roads safer, but the pros certainly outweigh the cons.
Over time, AI sensors will feel as second nature as buckling up your seat belt, serving as yet another powerful tool to help optimize driver and passenger experiences.
Years from now, we will look back and wonder how we ever operated cars without interior sensing capabilities that focus on drivers and passengers.
It will likely feel akin to driving a car today without the sensors that indicate fuel level or speed -- pretty unimaginable.