Say you’re driving late at night and you start to feel lonely. What if your car, detecting your change of mood through an array of sensors and cameras, suddenly asked how you were feeling? Better yet, what if your car already knew how you were feeling, and offered to cheer you up?
This possible future was sketched out by SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son at an event in Tokyo Thursday, according to Reuters. The eccentric tech executive, who recently announced his company’s acquisition of chip manufacturer ARM for $34.1 billion, said he is working with Honda to produce a car that can both talk and read a driver’s emotions.
“Imagine if robots, with their super intelligence, devoted themselves to humans," Son said, according to Reuters. "And imagine that cars themselves became supercomputers or robots one day. Honda will be the first to adopt this technology.”
The two companies will work on developing technology that allows a vehicle to analyze speech through the use cameras and in-car sensor, as well as gauge the driver’s emotions, engage in conversation, or offer assistance. A car that could communicate with its driver at this level could help with parking or provide company on a long trip. Son said at the event that SoftBank’s Pepper robot, which can read human emotion, would likely play a role as well.
Earlier this year, SoftBank said that a new version of Pepper powered by IBM’s supercomputer Watson would soon roll out. But if that conjures up worrisome visions of a civilization destroying AI, fear not: Pepper’s first official job is just to take your order at Pizza Hut.
It’s unclear how seriously we should take SoftBank and Honda in their quest to build a real-life version of KITT from Knight Rider, but it’s worth noting they are not the first companies to dabble in mind-reading cars. In 2013, Toyota unveiled the FV2, a single-occupancy concept car that can read your voice and facial expressions. Bentley has a facial-recognition app that can reads customers emotions. And topping them all, Nissan recently released a totally bizarre marketing ad for the Leaf that featured drivers wearing special headgear to detect their emotional brainwaves and then project their emotions as cartoon bubbles on the road.
It’s hard not to imagine a future where our collective road rage causes our empathetic robot cars to simply switch themselves off.