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"Sensitive" car aims to curb road rage

The Senso's sleek exterior was inspired by skyscrapers Keystone

Aggressive drivers may soon find themselves taking a more Zen-like approach behind the wheel, thanks to the Swiss automotive design company, Rinspeed.

This content was published on March 3, 2005 - 12:53

The Zurich-based firm unveiled its latest concept car, the futuristic "Senso", at the 75th International Motor Show in Geneva this week.

Designed to adapt to a person’s state of mind, the Senso uses biometric data to determine whether a driver is in a hostile or sluggish mood.

"An onboard camera records the driver’s movements, including how well and how often he or she changes lanes," said Rinspeed CEO Frank Rinderknecht.

"A series of sensors and a pulse-taking watch also help the car evaluate the driver’s emotions," he told swissinfo.

"Zensory" response

If the vehicle senses that the driver may have a case of road rage, it projects soothing blue patterns on the interior, accompanied by relaxing music and aromas, such as vanilla-mandarin.

But if it senses that the person behind the wheel may be falling asleep, the seat will begin to vibrate, as yellow and orange patterns are projected inside and a citrus fragrance is pumped through the car’s ventilation system.

The developers describe the car as "zen-sorial" in reference to a concept developed by scientists at the universities of Zurich and Innsbruck.

The "zenMotion" system, as it is known, uses psychological data on human perception to create intelligent surfaces that can interact with users.

According to Rinderknecht, the Senso uses this technology to subconsciously calm or stimulate the driver, without being distracting.

"Think of how people react to candlelight," he said. "They don’t need to stare directly at the flame to find themselves in the mood for romance... it’s all about the feeling created by the light."

Architectural design

In contrast to the car’s zen-like interior, the outside projects a far more sleek and no-nonsense attitude.

Rinderknecht says the design was inspired by skyscrapers and industrial architecture, resulting in a look that appeals to some and repels others.

"My daughter finds it the ugliest car she’s ever seen," he confessed. "But other people pass by and say it’s the greatest car they’ve ever seen.

"The point was to put the human being in the centre, so we took our inspiration from man-made structures rather than Mother Nature," he added.

Company officials are quick to point out, however, that the vehicle is environmentally friendly and runs on a hybrid combination of unleaded petrol and natural gas, resulting in a 30 per cent reduction in harmful carbon-dioxide emissions.

Humans vs. technology

Rinderknecht, who clearly enjoys basking in the media spotlight, is no stranger to the Geneva Motor Show.

In 2004 his James Bond-inspired "flying" car made a real splash at the exhibition (see related article), while the year before, he unveiled a vehicle that could expand or shrink at the push of a button.

But while his previous prototypes seemed all about hype, Rinderknecht says the Senso aims to send a serious message to the automotive industry that people should come before technology.

"Carmakers are ignoring the needs of drivers by defining safety through airbags and seatbelts," he said. "They’re not thinking about how to prevent accidents in the first place.

"Car design should be much more emotional," added Rinderknecht.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

The 75th International Motor Show is taking place in Geneva from March 3-13 at the city’s Palexpo hall.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the exhibition, which started back in 1905.
Each year, the world’s leading car manufacturers come to Geneva to unveil their latest automotive innovations.
Rinspeed, one of Switzerland’s best known producers of custom-made and concept cars, has unveiled a futuristic vehicle that can sense and adapt to the driver’s state of mind.

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