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Brands must allay worries for AI in transportation to take hold

The personal mobility market is turning to emotional analysis and AI to negate fear and trepidation around emerging vehicle technology and the future of transportation.

From ride-sharing apps to parking sensors, components of AI have consistently been utilized in personal vehicles. Research in augmented transit technology is growing rapidly, as consumers are demanding elevated, connected experiences in their vehicles.

However, many consumers are wary of autonomous vehicles and the use of AI in transportation. To address this problem, vendors and developers are turning to sentiment analysis -- driven by neural networks and deep learning -- to understand consumers' fears in the hope it can inform the future of personal vehicles.

Emotional analysis and vehicles

Vehicle manufacturers and analysts are beginning to focus on the emotional state of drivers. At the Emotion AI Summit in Boston, Danny Stillion, executive design director at Ideo, a global design company based in Palo Alto, Calif., said AI can "shift the mood of drivers using external stimuli," like climate control or automatic music selection.

The experience of driving ranges by driver and location, but anxiety, fear and boredom are common emotions associated with long-range driving. These are far from the emotions car manufacturers want associated with their products. Brands typically advertise feelings associated with freedom, discovery and upward mobility, Stillion said.

Now, the industry is turning to emotional analysis to try to close the gap between the positive emotions in ad campaigns and the neutral to negative emotions commonly associated with driving. Manufacturers are adding automated operating controls that adjust things like heat and seat position to change driver mood levels automatically.

Consumer emotions

There's been plenty of media coverage of autonomous vehicle advancements, but consumers are still overwhelmingly wary of self-driving cars.

Consumer trepidation around autonomous vehicles is likely psychological and has to do with the issue of control and comfort, said John Suh, vice president of venture capital firm Hyundai CRADLE.

Rapidly developing technology and the relative rarity of actual autonomous vehicles mean current consumers haven't ridden in a self-driving car and don't have the frame of reference to trust autonomous vehicles' safety. This creates a psychological barrier between consumers and automobility. 

The solution to breaking the psychological barrier is both exposure and creating an augmented experience, said Rashmi Rao, senior director at Harman International, a connected car company based in Stamford, Conn. For the team, developing a pleasant experience in autonomous vehicles began with developing augmented reality sounds. Augmenting the aural experience by adding relevant sounds near schools or hospitals, for example, instills consumer confidence in the technology.

The connection between auditory sounds and emotional response is based on neural network research and psychology, and it has been previously utilized in the sales of electric vehicles and sports cars.

"Your Maserati really doesn't sound the way you think it sounds. We've been doing [augmented vehicle sounds] for decades," Rao said.

AI automation levels in cars
As developers plan various levels of AI automation for vehicles, they're turning to sentiment analysis to quell consumer fear.

Mobility and scalability

As with many other AI endeavors, scalability is a significant hurdle to incorporating an emotional understanding into cars.

David Woessner, vice president of corporate development and regulatory affairs at Local Motors, a motor vehicle manufacturing company, urged mobility developers to stay away from bold strokes and high investments and to move in small increments, because technology, code and market desires will change immensely in a short period of time.

"Placing big bets gets you to the Pontiac Aztek," Woessner said, referring to GM's 2005 SUV that sunk the brand. "In order to get to what the consumer wants as a rider experience, place a bunch of small bets and iterate very quickly."

In order to get to what the consumer wants as a rider experience, place a bunch of small bets and iterate very quickly.
David WoessnerVice president of corporate development and regulatory affairs at Local Motors

Brands are largely following the advice, as the journey to emotional mobility AI is becoming a costly battle. As Rao noted, data shows consumer confidence in autonomous vehicles has been declining because of high-profile failures and the technology hype cycle. In order to boost consumer confidence in the technology, companies need to iterate fast, which involves an incredible amount of capital.

While scalability hinders the development of emotion-based AI in transportation technology, the widespread repercussions of increased mobility and autonomous vehicles require a citywide -- sometimes national -- collaboration with government officials.  

The future deployment of autonomous vehicles means New York City alone is slated to lose $2 billion in traffic tickets in the coming years, Rao said.

Alongside the wide-scale changes in revenue and parking, potential quality-of-life issues need to be addressed -- from mass transit to an uptick in vehicle crashes and individual vs. mass mobility through public transit, Rao continued.

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