MIT Introduces a Friendly Robot Companion For Your Dashboard

Kitt? KITT? Is that you?
AIDA reacts to the driver's facial expressions and other cues, responding in the proper social context. MIT

With all the sensors, computerized gadgetry and even Internet connectivity being built into cars these days, it’s a wonder our automobiles aren’t more like Optimus Prime. Our cars will now email us when they need to have their oil changed, and recognize our facial expressions to determine whether we’re enjoying ourselves, but for all the information available to us when we’re driving, it’s often not possible to organize it all in real-time and package it in a way that we can digest while behind the wheel. Researchers at MIT and Audi created the Affective Intelligent Driving Agent to address exactly that problem.

AIDA communicates with the driver via a small, sociable robot built into the dashboard. The idea is to develop an informed and friendly passenger, the buddy perpetually riding shotgun who aside from reading the map and helping with navigation, acts as a companion. As such, AIDA is being developed to read drivers’ moods via their facial expressions and other cues (hand gestures?) and respond to them in the proper social context. It communicates back in very human ways as well: with a smile, the blink of an eye, the drooping of its head.

Prompting memories of KIT from the (most excellent) television series Knight Rider, the idea is for AIDA to have personality and establish a relationship with the driver in which both parties learn from each another and help each other out. AIDA analyzes the driver’s mobility patterns, common routes and destinations, and driving habits. It then merges its knowledge of the driver with its knowledge of the city around it, mashing up the drivers priorities and needs with real-time information on everything from tourist attractions to environmental conditions to commercial activity to help the driver make better decisions.

If, for instance, there’s a parade route between you and the grocery store, AIDA will tell you about it and help you find your way around it. Or it might simply remind you that your gas tank is low, knowing that given the time of day you must be on your way to work several miles away. AIDA will even give you feedback on your driving, helping you increase your fuel efficiency or suggesting that your policy of making rolling illegal lefts through stop signs while in school zones may be ill-advised.

Unlike the sci-fi cars of our childhood fancy — KIT, the Batmobile, Herbie — AIDA is still a ways from pulling off daring rescue maneuvers or other heroic acts of derring-do. But it can make the road a safer, more informed place, and if the MIT robotics researchers have their way, one that’s not quite so lonely.