Do I really want a nanny cam on my face while I drive?

The NMA Foundation presents The Car of the Future weekly feature:

FastCompany.com came out with an article this week entitled Your Car Should be Safer before it becomes Autonomous. The big thrust of the article focused on how automakers are in such a rush to make autonomous vehicles (AVs) that they have forgotten about the next stage vehicle safety devices.

MIT AgeLab research scientist Bryan Reimer says he is concerned that all of this focus on autonomy is presenting a significant barrier to a more incremental increase in safety during the transition from driven to driverless.

Driver monitoring (the assessment of the driver’s level of awareness or perhaps distraction) could be added to any near future new car models. Driver monitoring technology is currently just about tracking a driver’s eyes for awareness. Someday researchers hope that a camera/AI can capture the full picture–face, head, and body position to understand immediate awareness of the driver/passenger. This would allow a more accurate assessment of whether the driver has the capability of taking over the wheel if needed.

Reimer added that, “The goal is to choreograph the flow of data at the right time and in the right position, to eliminate confusion and simplify how the driver interacts with the machine.”

The vehicle human-machine interface or HMI is a vital component of avoiding driver distraction and will be a key component when vehicles are in stage 3 of AV development. Stage 3 is where a driver needs to be present and ready to take over the wheel at a moment’s notice.

The HMI should be able to adapt in real time to help limit the amount of information for the driver. If a driver looks at the instrument cluster for example, all the key information comes up, dimming out the rest. This is eye tracking 101 and might be useful but could also up the level of driver distraction and anxiety. The experience of driving becomes instinctual over time and having too much information is not always helpful.

In my estimation, there is no middle ground here. Technology can only wake you up to a problem but not actually solve the problem for you if you are still required to put your hands on the wheel and drive. If you are not paying attention in the driver’s seat because after all it is Stage 3 automation but then at a moment’s notice, are required to take control of the vehicle within seconds…disaster has a good chance of winning.

If the market insists on thrusting driverless vehicles upon us, perhaps they just should skip stage 3 all together with no transition.  We go from trusting ourselves to drive to trusting a machine to drive for us instead of the middle road of both ways.

Regardless of stage 3 automation, the nanny cam on your face is still a problem on every level of driving for the simple fact that it is surveillance. If there is some sort of incident, could the camera footage be used against you by law enforcement and insurance companies? If you were not aware and then required to take control but could not avert disaster fast enough, would you be responsible for the incident?  What if your nanny cam was hacked and then the footage compromised by blackmailers?

Driving with a camera on your face is problematic on so many levels. A driverless vehicle will still need to see and hear its passengers to understand what it needs to do—do we trust that information the AI sifts through will stay with the AI and not go anywhere else?

Another question that no one can answer as of yet.

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The NMA Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation.  The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions. 

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If you are interested in learning more about the Car of the Future check out the following NMA resources:

NMA Driving News Feed—Over 50 Car of the Future stories are placed each month in the NMA Driving News—the go-to source for all your driving news information from around the country.

NMA’s Flipboard Magazine called Car of the Future—Over 50 stories are placed each month in this magazine devoted to the Car of the Future.  Stories featured include future car politics, industry news and thought pieces.

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If you have an interesting story about the Car of the Future, please feel free to send us a link to the NMA Email address nma@motorists.org.

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