The Car of the Future Will Know You Can’t Drive

Someday soon your car may be able tell you about an oncoming vehicle in your lane on a blind curve or even calm you down on a harried commute. But it may also tell your insurance company how often you drive over the speed limit or alert Starbucks when you drive by so that you can be offered a discount on a latte.Stanford professor Clifford Nass and his colleagues at the university’s CarLab are figuring how to make vehicles collect information on where you drive, how fast you go, your preferences and how you react when some jerk cuts you off. The technology could make you a better driver and even save you time and money – but it also could let insurers keep tabs on you and help advertisers reach right into your car.

Nass, who’s being funded in part by automakers, is not the only guy working on this. Microsoft wants to bring Google-style advertising to your dashboard.

“From the point of view of advertisers, the driver is a great captive audience,” Nass says. “You have the ability of knowing where the person is, so you can have very location-specific advertising.”

But if advertisers know where you are, your insurance company will too. And that’s where things get problematic.

“The insurance company could say, ‘Look, you’ve been parking in high-risk areas. I’m going to raise your collision insurance,’ or ‘We’ve detected that you’ve been driving at 80 miles per hour; that will affect your liability rates.’ So there are huge social issues about the car,” he says.

Still, Nass stresses there’s more to the technology than being spied on or pitched products. Your car could recommend a someplace to get a decent pizza, for example, and your insurance company would know you obey the speed limit and don’t speed up for yellow lights and so cut you a break on your premium.

“Insurance rates are a sensitive topic, but you could have a much more efficient insurance market with better data,” Nass says.

A thinking car also could make you a safer, happier driver. A large part of his research focuses on how a car’s voice can influence your emotional state. He believes that as the car of the future studies the driver’s voice, facial expressions and emotional state using a camera and even blood pressure monitors in the steering wheel, it could change its tone to match your mood. In other words, it’ll know when you’re about to blow your top because someone cut you off, and soothe your nerves with a friendly voice.

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