engineers even affixed anemometers, devices used to measure wind speed, to the outside of the car to measure the air flow over the left and right side of the car. By having the audio shift from left to right based on where the most airflow is, it creates a binaural hearing experience for the driver.
“I'm not an engineer so ultimately I'm not trying to develop a new technology,” Keats explained further. “I'm interested in the car as a vehicle to be able to explore a relationship with technology over the long term. Think about how we might relate to artificial intelligence, or at the opposite extreme what might happen as we become more one with our machines...and whether in fact that is advantageous.”
While Keats admits the Roadable Synapse is more of a thought experiment than anything else at this point, it does point to possible solutions to address some very real concerns about autonomous vehicles and how comfortable consumers will be with them. According to a 2016 survey conducted by AAA , while 59% of US drivers say they want autonomous functionality in their next vehicle, 78% said they are afraid to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle. Fifty-four percent of drivers surveyed also said they would be uncomfortable sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle.
Perhaps concepts like the Roadable Synapse, which gives riders a better sense of how the vehicle is responding to its environment, will help ease consumers' apprehension around them. Companies are already seeking to address this in other ways with AI systems, such as Microsoft's EmotionAPI and the Emotional AI SDK released by Affectiva, that could allow autonomous cars to better understand their passengers' emotional states and respond accordingly – reducing speed if the driver is feeling fearful, for example.
According to LACMA, Keats is also working on a next-generation of the Roadable Synapse that will take on more advanced sensory experiences, making the driver feel anxious when the engine needs servicing, and feel hunger when the car is low on fuel. Perhaps the real question is just how close do we really want to feel with our vehicles?
Watch a short documentary on Roadable Synapse released by LACMA:
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Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at Design News covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.