Boffin develops satnav that knows when you're getting cross

Posted by Emma Woollacott

There can be few satnav owners who haven't been tempted to throw the thing out of the car window as that patronisingly calm voice tells them to 'turn around where possible' for the umpteenth time.

There can be few satnav owners who haven't been tempted to throw the thing out of the car window as that patronisingly calm voice tells them to 'turn around where possible' for the umpteenth time.

And a Cambridge University robotics professor has become so frustrated with his own satnav that he's built one that's sensitive to its user's emotional state.

"I love gadgets like GPS satellite navigation systems, but I hate the fact they are so difficult to use - I think they were designed by sadists," says Peter Robinson. "The problem is that computers don't react to how I feel, whether I'm pleased or annoyed - they just ignore me."

Robinson heads the university's 'emotional robotics' group, so had all the right bits just lying around to create 'Charles' - named for Charles Babbage.

His prototype system detects a user's mood through a number of sensors, picking up cues from the user's facial expression, hand gestures and tone of voice.

Rather than sitting on the dashboard, the technology is incorporated into a robotic head and torso that sits in the passenger seat. When it detects that the driver is angry, it responds with sympathetic phrases.

Robinson says that his system correctly guages a driver's mood about 70 percent of the time - about the same as most real-life back-seat drivers, he says.

There's a video of Charles and professor Robinson driving happily into the sunset, here.