Imagine Feeling What Your Autonomous Car Feels

In partnership with engineers from Hyundai, Jonathon Keats, an experimental philosopher and artist, has developed, Roadable Synapse, a concept that uses vehicle sensors to convey a sense of what the car is experiencing directly to the driver.

Talk to someone who loves their car and you'll often hear them talk about having a feeling of oneness with their vehicle and how their car feels like an extension of themselves. It's a sensation that may go away if autonomous cars become ubiquitous and transform cars from less of an individualized experience and more into a travel utility akin to trains, buses, and airplanes.

The Roadable Synapse project uses sensors technology applied to a Hyundai Ioniq to provide the driver with an audio experience that changed based on the vehicle's performance and external conditions. (Image source: Hyundai Motor / Museum Associates/LACMA)

But what if it didn't have to be that way? What if sensor technology could allow even our autonomous vehicles to provide us with new levels of immersion and interaction with our vehicles – letting us experience what our cars are experiencing?

Hyundai, in partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)'s Art + Technology Lab, have tapped San Francisco-based artist and experimental philosopher, Jonathon Keats to create Roadable Synapse, a conceptual art project designed to explore how drivers interact with their vehicles and how those interactions can grow and change as technology, particularly autonomous driving, advances in the automotive space. By outfitting a Hyundai Ioniq with new sensors, and by leveraging sensors already present in the vehicle, Keats and the R&D team at Hyundai were able to create a vehicle that uses audio to provide a novel sensory experience for the driver. 

"We are constantly exploring how new forms of mobility can help us overcome current transportation limitations. Engaging with art and technology projects allows us to explore this field in entirely new ways," John Suh, Vice President at Hyundai Motor, said in a press statement. 

The idea behind the concept is that it could provide a new level of connection with their vehicle for drivers and provide a more mentally and emotionally engaging experience when riding in autonomous vehicles. “I began the two-year development cycle by screening the neuroscientific literature, searching for ways in which to dynamically alter the driver’s psychological state based on incoming sensory data,” Keats wrote in an article for Nautilus. “I found that factors ranging from speed to aerodynamics could be viscerally experienced by modifying the sound environment in the passenger compartment. Further, the driver’s state of mind can be changed just by tweaking the music playing on the stereo (and it makes no difference whether the music is hip-hop or classical).”

The Roadable Synapse uses sensor data from various points on the car (including the engine) and converts those into unique audio responses for the driver. Music tempo changes based on the car's acceleration, the volume changes based on RPMs, and the audio will distort or become clearer based on driving efficiency. “By making music tempo faster as car goes faster, and stimulating the driver by that tempo, it becomes possible to make the driver psychologically shift in terms of time so the driver is feeling what the car is experiencing,” Keats explained in a documentary released by LACMA about the project (below).


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