Apple: AV may detect passengers' stress levels

A patent application published today reveals that Apple's future AV may be capable of monitoring passengers' stress levels and potentially employ that information to shift driving styles. 

The patent application, revealed by appleinsider today, was officially filed under s.371 on March 7, 2018. 

According to the details included in the patent application, the vehicle's system will be able to choose from various "comfort profiles" - these profiles will bring together sets of occupant profiles and sets of different driving control parameters. Although the language used is rather obscure, it seems that the car will be able to adjust its driving style based on the profile of the people occupying its seats. 

The interesting part of the patent application is the way in which the vehicle will conform to the passengers desired driving style. As it is explained, the Autonomous Navigation System (ANS) will be able to monitor the stress levels of one or more occupants based on numerous observable features. These features include eye movement, occupant body posture, occupant body gestures, occupant pupil dilation, occupant eye blinking, occupant body temperature, occupant heartbeat, occupant perspiration, and occupant head position (the list does not seem to be exhaustive). As the description of the patent reveals, the ANS will then be able to make the necessary adjustments (or "updates", as Apple calls them) to the relevant comfort profiles which will cause the control system to navigate the vehicle in a different manner (presumably a more calm/aggressive driving experience, or perhaps a different path). 

The collection of the necessary data points will be made possible through a combination of advanced sensors. As mentioned in the application, the vehicle may include visible light cameras, infrared cameras, near-infrared cameras, depth cameras, LIDAR devices etc. Additionally, the vehicle may be equipped with chemical sensors which can monitor the atmosphere of the interior for the presence of one or more chemical substances. 

Expectedly, the product of "Project Titan" will also feature occupant identity recognition based on facial recognition - this "can include comparing one or more monitored features of a monitored occupant's face with a set of stored facial recognition data associated with a particular known occupant identity and determining a correlation between the monitored features and the stored facial recognition data associated with the known occupant identity". 

Interestingly, the features revealed seem to suggest that the vehicle will be regularly driving a specific set of passengers around. This points towards a privately-owned vehicle, which is similar to the ownership model that is prevalent at the moment. Several questions arise: if mobility is moving towards a vehicle sharing model (an autonomous vehicle can pick up and drop off hundreds of people in a day by acting as an autonomous taxi), will features such as facial recognition and adjustment based on the passengers' profile really matter? This could only make sense if Apple is looking to create a global database of passenger profiles - in this way, a passenger riding an Apple AV they do not own can still be recognised by the system and given a personalised ride. Another interesting question is that of ride-sharing: if multiple people, strangers to each other, are riding on the same AV, how would the vehicle prioritise between them? 

As appleinsider astutely points out, Apple files for different patents regularly, and the granting of such patents does not guarantee that any of the mechanisms described will be included in the final product. The concepts discussed, though, provide an interesting peek into how the future of autonomous mobility may be shaped and what the leader in User Experience foresees as the right way to provide autonomous rides.