Jaguar Land Rover’s onboard ‘psychologist’ reads facial expressions and changes the cabin environment to suit. Picture: SUPPLIED
 Jaguar Land Rover’s onboard ‘psychologist’ reads facial expressions and changes the cabin environment to suit. Picture: SUPPLIED

Getting a car to figure out you’re getting drowsy behind the wheel, and then flashing a coffee cup in the instrument panel to prompt you to take a rest stop, is a technology that’s been around for a few years.

Getting a vehicle to read your mood is a whole new level of difficult, but Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is working on this very technology in a bid to reduce driver stress and road rage.

The British carmaker is researching new artificial intelligence (AI) technology to understand our state of mind while driving, and adjust cabin settings to improve driver wellbeing.

Prompting this research was a UK study that claimed 74% of people admit to feeling stressed or overwhelmed every day.

It uses a driver-facing camera and biometric sensing to monitor your mood via your facial expressions, and adapt features such as the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system, media and ambient lighting into more stress-reducing modes.

Upon sensing your distress at being cut off by a minibus, the friendly onboard AI psychologist would, for instance, change the ambient lighting to calming colours, or select a soothing music playlist. It would also lower the temperature in response to yawning or other signs of tiring.

The mood–detection is one of the new technologies being explored as part of JLR’s “tranquil sanctuary” vision to improve the driving experience, with a view to ensuring occupants are comfortable and that the driver remains mindful, alert and in control.

I have some immediate concerns with the premise of a car that thinks it knows what’s best for my mood and autonomously changes the cabin settings.

Cars making unsolicited decisions on my behalf is one of the very things that raises my blood pressure when driving, for instance diverting cold air to my feet or blowing the fan too hard (neither of which I like) when I press the automatic button on the climate control.

I also don’t want the car to switch on soothing music while I’m listening to a news bulletin. That would leave me feeling very untranquil.

JLR says it has all this covered and that the tech will adjust to your personal quirks. The system is programmed to learn a driver’s preference and make increasingly tailored adjustments.

I hope so. However, anyone who’s experienced road rage might still have reservations about a change in cabin lighting, or listening to Beethoven, being able to change one’s mood about being stuck behind a slow driver in the overtaking lane.

I suspect my spirits would be much better lifted by a bar that popped out from the side of my car to prevent someone overtaking in the emergency lane when I’m stuck in traffic, although I can see how this might be perceived as antisocial.

Perhaps a more useful application of the onboard AI is JLR’s research into similar technology for rear-seat passengers. It uses a headrest-mounted camera to detect signs of tiredness, and could dim the lights, tint the windows and raise the temperature in the rear to help an occupant get to sleep. I see a practical application here for parents of young children, for its potential to reduce the number of “are we there yet” or “she pinched me first” comments from the back seat on a long journey.

JLR is taking the tech seriously and has hired a full-time chief medical officer, Dr Steve Iley, to investigate how future cars can make humans feel better.

Perhaps an onboard psychologist sounds a little far-fetched, but you never know. It just might turn out to be technology we never knew we needed until we had it, like smartphones.