The trend has been to outfit vehicles with cameras facing outside for the purposes of safety and convenience, but now Ford and Intel are pointing cameras inwards toward the driver for the same reasons.
Dubbed Project Mobii, the collaboration was announced during a recent presentation at a Ford conference. Still in a conceptual phase, its stated purpose is to bridge connected cars with the Internet of Things, allowing them to interface more seamlessly with mobile devices for safer usage.
The idea of an interior-facing camera is meant to identify who is driving via face recognition, and tailor the in-car experience based on his or her preferences. These could include seat adjustment, radio presets, contacts, navigation maps and more. The car's internal data connection would also enable car owners to peer into the vehicle remotely using a smartphone or tablet.
In recognizing a driver and front-seat passenger, the camera could sense who is reaching for the head unit's screen and open the system up for unfettered use to the passenger, while locking out the driver. In turn, the passenger would be locked out of any personal information the driver has in the system.
"Why shouldn't a passenger be able to enter a navigation destination while the driver keeps their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel? With Mobii, we wanted to explore whether or not we could accurately use cameras in the interior of the vehicle to solve that problem," says Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader at Ford, in an interview. "There are luxury vehicles that associate personalized settings with a particular key fob, and yet, we know through data that many drivers don't bother, so we want to make this seamless enough that your car just knows you."
Under this scenario, unrecognized drivers wouldn't be able to start the car unless the vehicle owner approves them through a mobile app. Temporary access can then be given with parameters that can limit top speed, apply a geo-fence perimeter, ban extra passengers and restrict access to the infotainment system. Refusal to abide by the rules would allow the owner to monitor the driver in real time.
It's a level of control parents might welcome once their teenage children set off on the road for the first time. Greenberg admits that the way families manage vehicles and younger drivers was an intriguing focus in pursuing the Mobii project, though the implementation still has to be better understood.
"There are a lot of issues of concern for parents around that, and a technology like Mobii gives an opportunity to manage that relationship if implemented properly," he says. "That was the kind of stuff we were interested in and why we wanted to work with a partner like Intel, which puts as much effort into understanding the anthropology and ethnography of this as they do the technology itself."
Ken Obuszewski, director of marketing at Intel's automotive division, says a lot of collaborative research went into the user experience to better understand where the market is going and "intercept technologies consumers want to see." But it's unlikely Intel would make the decision on which technologies ultimately make the cut.
"Technologies are here and more are coming to open up the possibilities in the automotive space, but the question is what's really going to be implemented and when.
"And how far do you go before privacy concerns come into play?" says Obuszewski in an interview. "Some folks are going to be very nervous about any of their data being shared, while others might be more open to the idea, especially if they get a personal benefit to it."
A discounted insurance premium might be one of those benefits, if insurance companies offer them based on monitoring behavioural driving analytics. Tighter personalization and anti-theft security could be another, particularly since interior cameras would be tightly integrated with the driver's seat.
"This is why it's very helpful for us to do these advanced principle concepts with auto makers like Ford, because it also helps us learn which technologies we should invest in, and how we see our customers eventually looking at where they want to invest in their purchase," he says.
Obuszewski says that there's still a lot of research to be done, as the technology presented thus far may not be what's enabled going forward. There has been talk of integrating wearable devices such as smartwatches and heart-rate monitors to better understand a driver's condition, as well as exploring ways to mitigate driver distraction and fatigue.
"It's about bringing some of the best of the consumer world and the automotive world together, and then working with customers and the ecosystem to enable the right technologies people want," Obuszewski says.
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The writer was a guest of the auto maker.