Cars that feel? Queen’s University Belfast is bringing the future to life

SOURCE: Samuele Errico Piccarini/Unsplash
Queen's University in Belfast and tech firm Sensum are developing a system that will put cars in autopilot if drivers get angry or fall asleep at the wheel.

By U2B Staff 

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Imagine a car that could take over if the driver threw a temper tantrum. Or an auto-pilot that kicks in when you’re getting sleepy. Essentially, a system that takes driving out of your hands when you’re just not in the right head space.

Well, that futuristic vision could soon be reality thanks to the work of Northern Ireland experts.

According to BelfastLive, a psychology team from Queen’s University Belfast and tech firm Sensum are developing a system that will put cars in autopilot if drivers get angry or fall asleep at the wheel.

The new “empathic” operating system will measure and respond to the feelings of their occupants and, in theory, render drunk drivers less dangerous and decrease the incidence of road rage.

The collaboration is a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Queen’s School of Psychology and Sensum, a company that specialises in “empathic artificial intelligence.”

“The partnership between Sensum and Queen’s is an outstanding example of industry and academia collaborating,” Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Gary McKeown, said in a statement.

“The trust and productivity we have established over eight years of working together has become a valuable pathway for the commercialisation of scientific knowledge.”

The longstanding relationship between the two organisations has proven invaluable, providing Sensum with “a world-class scientific institute, fuelling the journey from innovative research to product deployment for some of the largest brands in the world,” according to CEO & Co-Founder, Gawain Morrison.

The pair’s latest project uses Sensum’s combined software and hardware platform to assess feelings and emotions using multiple biometric sensors and information sources.

Taking a “universal approach” to empathic artificial intelligence (AI), the team of researchers has explored various driver emotions in a range of scenarios, not just in the laboratory, but also out on the road.

“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 Lead Data Scientist at Sensum and Knowledge Transfer Associate with Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Daniel Moore.

The KTP partnerships are co-funded by Innovate UK and Invest Northern Ireland.

Invest NI has committed to provide £4.9 million (US$6.2 million) in funding between 2018-2023 towards Knowledge Transfer Partnerships for Northern Ireland businesses.