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Who’s driving your car? Ford and Intel turn their sensors inwards

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Ford/Intel video news release © Intel

A joint research project from leading car manufacturer Ford and Intel is looking at Mobile Interior Imaging – how interior-facing cameras could be integrated with sensor technology and data already generated within and around the vehicle to create a more personalised and seamless interaction between driver and vehicle.

Project Mobii is a collaboration between Intel ethnographers, anthropologists and engineers alongside Ford research engineers, and incorporates perceptual computing technology to offer a more enjoyable and intuitive vehicle experience.

“Our goal with the Mobii research is to explore how drivers interact with technology in the car and how we can then make that interaction more intuitive and predictive,” said Paul Mascarenas, CTO and VP at Ford Research and Innovation. “The use of interior imaging is purely research at this point; however, the insights we've gained will help us shape the customer experience in the long term.”

This is yet another manifestation of the Internet of Things, the most-talked about sector in telecoms since the advent of the mobile phone, and an area that Intel is keen to develop. We’re already seeing exterior-facing cameras in cars, and more in-car telematics solutions than we know what to do with. And let’s not forget apps, and the seemingly desperate need to connect our smartphones with all aspects of our vehicles, from entertainment to navigation, and security to engine management.

“As a trusted technology leader and innovator, Intel understands the challenges automakers are facing and is a committed partner in this unprecedented opportunity,” said Doug Davis, VP of the Internet of Things Group at Intel. “Project Mobii is a great example of Intel collaborating with Ford to help enable a secure, more connected driving experience.”

Ford has been pioneering ICT solutions for its vehicles (easy to do for the luxury car makers who can charge a small fortune for these added extras, but far more complex for the mass-market car sector), and already uses exterior vehicle cameras for driver-assist features such as lane-keeping assist and lane departure warning.

The Mobii research examines new applications for interior cameras, including driver authentication. The use of facial recognition software offers improved privacy controls, and enables Project Mobii to identify different drivers and automatically adjust features based on an individual's preferences.

Upon entering the vehicle, the driver is authenticated by Project Mobii through a front-facing camera using facial recognition software. The in-car experience is then personalized to display information specific to that driver, such as calendar, music and contacts. If Project Mobii detects a passenger in the car, a privacy mode activates to display only navigation.

If Project Mobii does not recognize the driver, a photo is sent to the primary vehicle owner's smartphone. That owner can then set permissions and specify features that should be enabled or disabled (for instance, if the driver turns out to be the owner’s child, then restrictions could be automatically set to limit speed, audio volume or mobile phone use while driving – in those countries where it is still legally acceptable of course).

Intel and Ford add that gesture recognition software enables intuitive interaction for the driver. “A combination of natural gestures and simple voice commands can simplify such tasks as turning the heat up and down, or opening and closing a sunroof while driving,” say the two companies. No mention was made of the typical gesture seen in my car (and the cars of many of us, I’m sure), usually the result of being cut up by idiot drivers or having to brake violently when an octogenarian decides to suddenly pull out from a road junction. Mind you, those gestures would be very easy to recognise…

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