Las Vegas, Nevada – The annual first-week-of-the-year Consumer Electronics Show has always been a favoured arena for carmakers to showcase the gadgets and gizmos inside their latest models or concepts.
This year, however, a number of manufacturers have gone a step further, building open-sided mock-ups to represent their take on the interior of the future car, and the way it will interact with its human cargo.
Possibly the most off-beat, however, is Hyundai’s Health+Mobility Concept, taking ‘holistic’ to a whole new level by using biometrics to monitor the occupants’ stress and concentration levels – and then do something about them.
In the near future, it says, an array of in-car sensors could monitor the physical and mental state of the driver, checking everything everything from the driver’s posture to breathing, heart rate, eye tracking and even facial expressions – and then respond with the appropriate treatment.
Head of Hyundai Ventures John Suh said: “For many people the daily commute leads to stress, frustration, and the feeling of wasted time. Automating the driving task simply turns that into (equally stressful) boredom – but the same technology can be used to cultivate a safer and healthier mental state, boosting focus or helping you relax on the road so you’re less tired when you get there.”
What Suh calls ‘mood bursts’ are short-duration stimuli aimed at eliciting a specific response; if the cabin sensors detect that the driver is losing concentration, they’ll trigger an alert burst (no Cyril, not by poppjng a balloon!), or if your heart and breathing rate are elevated in traffic, a ‘calm burst’ will help relax you.
And these mood bursts can be individually scripted to create a variety of physical and mental responses, combining any or all of these micro experiences:
Posture – If you’re slumping down in your seat, losing focus or alertness, the driver’s seat can automatically adjust to a more upright position. Alternatively, if you’re wriggling about in discomfort or frustration, it can massage your lower back to help you relax.
Scent – Aroma dispensers in cars are nothing new, but this one monitors your ‘vital signs’ and then mixes a combination of scents for the desired effect. For instance, lavender or eucalyptus-based aromas calm you down, while smells such as cedar or peppermint can energise and invigorate the senses.
Light - In the same way as dawn stimulates the senses to wake the body, varying levels of warm or cool colours spreading across the dashboard will either wake you up or calm you down.
Temperature – The ‘healthcare cockpit’ can sense the ambient temperature of the car and push warmer or colder air to your face, body or feet as needed. A blast of cold air in the face will wake up the drowsiest of drivers, while a gentle cool breeze will calm a heated brow.
Sound is, of course, the most effective mood enhancer, from from a seatbelt warning buzzer to a soothing sonata; Hyundai has taken that one big step further by enabling the system to choose from preset radio stations or a music library to create the desired environment, boosting the volume during an ‘alert burst’ or accompanying a a ‘calm burst’ with softer acoustic music.
Combining several of these ‘mood bursts’ could have a salutary effect. Imagine if your Hyundai thinks you’re falling asleep at the wheel – jerking your seat upright, blowing ice-cold, peppermint flavoured air in your face, flooding the dashboard with red back-lighting and playing the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, all at the same time, would have you wide awake – if only in self-defence! – until the satnav lady lets you off the hook with a gentle “You have reached your destination”.