Volkswagen, MIT Develop In-Car Robot

Posted: November 2, 2009

If you thought the voice-activated navigation system in your car was cool, you ain't seen nothing yet. Your next car could come with a far more advanced navigation aide - one that can hold up its end of a conversation.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Volkswagen and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working together to develop "a dashboard-mounted robotic device that uses myriad sources of information to help you plan travel routes, dodge traffic jams, find heretofore unrealized entertainment opportunities and avoid running out of gas." Called AIDA (Affective Intelligent Driving Agent), the system won't drive for you. Instead, "it monitors features and systems such as the gas and brake pedals, windshield wipers, seat position and fuel gauge and tire pressure to ‘learn' how you drive."

AIDA can then analyze traffic conditions, weather, and the car's status to make suggestions that go beyond simple turn-by-turn directions. Kicking Tires explains, "For instance, you could be trying to make a 7 p.m. movie but a traffic jam threatens your on-time arrival. AIDA would then step in and direct you around the traffic using the quickest possible route. On the way home, it might recommend that you stop for gas based on how far away you live. Or it might suggest a restaurant to grab a bite at because it knows you've been in a movie for two hours and might be hungry."

It could come across as overbearing, but AIDA's developers hope it won't. Mikey Siegel of MIT's Media Lab tells New Scientist that he "hopes these robots will feel more like passengers than gadgets." He adds, "It'll be subtle. That's the whole point."

Still confused? MIT has provided a video explaining the system, posted on YouTube, complete with a disturbing scene of a man petting the robot head and, apparently, losing a staring contest to it.

In early prototypes, AIDA appears as a small robotic head with glowing blue eyes sticking out of the car's dashboard above the center air vents. It looks like a decapitated Wall-E.

Volkswagen isn't the only company working on the idea. Jalopnik reports, "both Nissan and [electronics maker] Pioneer are already working on similar systems."

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