Aachen, Germany - Every petrolhead knows the feeling. Just revving the engine of a sports car or a powerful motorcycle unleashes enough adrenaline and endorphins (the feel-good hormones) to give you an instant buzz.

And neurologists will tell you tell you those buzz moments are good for you, revving up your metabolism and tuning your immune system, playing a vital role in your overall wellness.

In fact, say the ‘human engineering’ researchers at the Ford Research and Innovation Centre in Aachen, Germany, driving a sports car on a daily basis is among the best ways to boost your sense of wellbeing and emotional fulfilment.

Measuring the moment 

More than that, they’ve found a way to measure those ‘buzz moments’, wiring up a group of volunteers in much the same way that a polygraph tells a skilled observer when you’re lying, and measuring the results as they cheered on their favourite football team, watched a gripping Game of Thrones episode, enjoyed a passionate kiss with a loved one, or took an intense salsa dancing class.

And the only buzz moment that delivered more of a rush than driving a sports car was a roller-coaster - and while it’s impractical to ride the Big Snake every day, you can commute in a performance car, and many people do.

This chart shows the average number of high-intensity buzz moments experienced by the volunteers during the various activities:

Acitvity: Average Buzz Moments per person:
Roller Coaster 3
Driving 2.1
Shopping 1.7
Watching Game of Thrones 1.5
Watching Football Match 1.5
Kissing 0
Salso Dancing 0
Dining 0

Volunteers who drove a Focus ST or RS, or a Mustang, on a Ford test track experienced an average of 2.1 high-intensity buzz moments during a typical commute, compared to three while riding a roller coaster, 1.7 while shopping and 1.5 while watching a Game of Thrones episode or a football match.

“A roller coaster may be good for a quick thrill,” said discipline leader in physiology Dr Harry Witchel, “but it’s not great for getting you to work every day. This study shows how driving a performance car does much more than get you from A to B - it could be a valuable part of your daily wellbeing routine.”

Bringing research to life

As part of the programme Ford and Designworks put 1400 man-hours into building a very special Focus RS, using a high-performance Zotac VR GO gaming PC to analyse the input from the electrodes the driver wears and transfer it as real-time animated graphics to 110 daylight-bright light strips and 82 display panels totaling almost 200 000 individually switchable LEDs, turning almost the entire glassed area of the car into a rolling display of the driver’s emotional responses.

Each “buzz moment” experienced by the driver - analysed using “emotional AI” software developed by leading empathic technology firm Sensum - produces a dazzling animation across almost 188 416 LEDs integrated into the car.

As a research tool it’s more representative than quantitative, but it points the way to a future when  our cars can understand and respond to our emotions - as well as levels of stress, distraction and fatigue - providing prompts and warnings, and even take control of the car in emergency situations.

Ford of Europe research scientist Dr Marcel Mathissen said: “We think driving should be an enjoyable, emotional experience. The research we and our partners are doing is helping to lead us towards safer roads and – importantly – healthier driving.”

IOL Motoring