Lexus Teams With TED Fellows Program for Human-Centered Approach to Autonomous Cars

Lexus has partnered with the TED Fellows program, a global multidisciplinary group of thought leaders, to develop new designs for autonomous vehicles that place people over technology. The goal of the partnership between Lexus and the TED Fellows program is to ensure that human needs stay at the center of self-driving cars.

TED Senior Fellows Greg Gage and Sarah Sandman, a neuroscientist and artist respectively, have shared their visions for a driverless car that is more human-centric. They have released two short videos (included below) that highlight their approach.

Human Emotions & Automobiles

Gage, both a neuroscientist and an engineer, proposes a vehicle more in tune with its occupants is necessary for keeping humans at the center of autonomous driving. In his short video, Gage explains how future automobiles might better read the occupants’ emotions, especially when it comes to stressful situations. He makes a case for in-cabin monitoring via strategically-placed cameras and sensors and notes that AI technology will be instrumental in keeping humans at the center of an autonomous revolution.

What Gage proposes is remarkably similar to the work of Dr. Mónica López-González, CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of La Petite Noiseuse Productions. Dr. López-González, a cognitive brain scientist and linguist by training, advocates human-centered design by way of brain-inspired computing. The brain-inspired computing approach goes deeper than vehicle perception and holds that machine vision systems will need not just perception but also full cognition.   

YouTube video

A Destination On Wheels

Sandman, an artist and designer, recalls her time spent on Amtrak’s Empire Builder train, a long-distance passenger train that travels weekly between Chicago, Illinois, and the Pacific Northwest via a northernmost route. Sandman notes that things like the Empire Builder train are just as exciting as the destination – and in effect, such transportation methods become the destination themselves. Would there be a way to harness that for autonomous cars? Sandman believes so. 

Her vision for the future automobile is one that allows occupants to have more quality time together in a comfortable environment, a stark contrast to how we might typically think about traveling by car today (congestion, pollution, road rage, and so on). Sandman says one of the best aspects of human-centered design is that it gives us the ability to create the world we want. And it’s very well possible autonomous cars will be a catalyst for this type of change.  

YouTube video

Is All This Possible?

What Gage and Sandman envision is not impossible. It may take time to develop the technology, and there may well be hurdles with consumer adoption along the way, but it’s not impossible. The types of cars Gage and Sandman are describing can be designed, and if done correctly, will fundamentally change mobility and transportation.

Most of the advancements and technical accomplishments we have today would have been thought impossible at one time. In the early 1600s, both Thomas Harriott and Galileo Galilei observed the moon, yet at that time, it may have been impossible to conceive that humans would walk the surface of it 360 years later. In the time of Greek physician Hippocrates, the idea of a same-day laparoscopic surgery would have been mind-blowing (most medical advancements to this day still are). And it would have been crazy to think in the 1980s that your telephone, your music, and a digital version of the mail was all going to fit in your pocket.

Even in the early years of the automobile, traveling by four wheels was thought to be absurd. As German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II once remarked, “I believe in the horse – the automobile is a temporary appearance.” Did Karl Benz or Henry Ford ever believe that cars would one day drive themselves? Probably not, but here we are.

Today, we rely on advancements in aerospace engineering to get us safely across the ocean. We rely on advancements in medicine for life-saving surgeries and other medical treatments. And goodness knows we love our smartphones. Though it might seem unlikely, even impossible, what Gage and Sandman are proposing may very well be things we cannot live without 100 years from now.