Driving Happiness

Kirobo Mini can fit in the palm of your hand.

The Kirobo Mini can carry on conversations as well as respond to emotions. Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Company. 

Carmakers look to emotional intelligence for a safer, happier ride.

While Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) may have been ahead of its time, car companies are turning to neuroscience and artificial intelligence technology to boost your positive emotions behind the wheel and beyond. 

Recently, Toyota Motor Corporation unveiled a palm-size companion robot to keep you company on and off the road. The Kirobo Mini, which is now available in Japan, is designed to read human emotions—like delight, pleasure, surprise or anger—from our facial expressions. Kirobo Mini will ask if you are sad or comment that you look happy today. If we drive too fast, it may tell us to slow down. Kirobo, which is the Japanese word for hope, eventually adapts to your personality and remembers conversations.

According to Toyota, more than 5,000 Kirobo Minis have been sold, and the reception to these cuddly bots has been positive. Some have even accepted Kirobo Mini as part of the family. “We did receive some feedback that Kirobo Mini encouraged and increased conversation between couples who gradually had less conversation after their children had grown up and left home,” according to a spokesperson with Toyota.

Researchers at Ford are also trying to enhance the driving experience by tapping in to our emotions. In a recent study, Ford teamed up with neuroscience and bio-emotion research company Sensum to see how driving compared to other peak excitement activities. Researchers found that participants driving in a Ford Focus RS loaded with artificial Intelligence emotion reading technology had 2.1 buzz moments during a typical commute. Only a ride on a roller coaster gave more moments of intense excitement.
The 2018 Ford Mustang V8 GT. Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company.
Emma Bergg of Ford Public Affairs says the driver-state research at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany, is paving the way for smarter and safer cars. Working with EU-funded projects to bridge the gap between human interaction and autonomous driving, researchers at Ford hope to build in-car systems designed to detect our emotions, notice when our stress levels are too high or when we are too tired to drive. Our cars may even take control and save us from dangerous situations. Michael Knight would be proud.

Ford’s “Buzz”-worthy Moments

Number of times people hit peak levels of excitement:

   3.0  On a roller coaster

   2.1 Driving a performance car on a typical commute

   1.7 On a shopping trip

   1.5 Watching Game of Thrones or sports on TV

   0 Salsa dancing, fine dining or a passionate kiss

 

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