Cars that think are cars that see, often with a bristling array of radars, cameras, ultrasound, and whatnot. So far, though, they have mostly looked out; why not turn that gaze inward, as well?
That's the idea behind Project Mobii, short for mobile interior imaging, a joint research effort announced last week by Intel and the Ford Motor Company. One obvious application is in letting the owner decide who gets to drive the car and in what fashion.
A car might be programmed to use its facial-recognition system to identify family members, perhaps allowing a teenage daughter to drive only under certain speeds and with the audio system set below a certain decibel level. A teenage son might be restricted to even lower speeds. Another possibility is to have the car read an owner's gestures, so that a wave of the hand can turn some feature on or off. Also, the owner might peek inside the car from a distance using a smartphone video app.
The technology would make it far easier to police a car's usage so that it can function as a shared vehicle. Shared use is one of the most important ways in which autonomous car technology will pay for itself.
Ford emphasizes that the data would stay firmly in the hands of the owner. But who knows, some owners might one day decide to bounce any unknown facial pattern to a police database up in the cloud. If the pattern turned out to fit the mugshot of a known thief, the car might alert the police. Or it just might engage that oh-so-needed option: the ejector seat.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.