Vehicles are slowly but surely heading towards a future where the driver is almost irrelevant. A raft of new technologies will be employed to control a vehicle’s performance, speed and steering. Eventually leading to vehicles that drive themselves. Many Technologies designed to assist drivers are already reaching fruition including systems that recognize tiredness in drivers or control the throttle and brakes for the duration of a journey. The latest driver assist technology to catch our eye comes out of the Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT), where researchers are creating an in-car personal robot that is designed to offer the same kind of guidance as “an informed and friendly companion.”

To identify the set of goals the driver would like to achieve the Affective Intelligent Driving Agent, or AIDA, analyzes the driver’s mobility patterns, keeping track of common routes and destinations, and incorporates real-time event information and knowledge of environmental conditions, as well as commercial activity, tourist attractions, and residential areas. AIDA merges all this information and makes inferences and communicates with the driver through a small robot embedded in the dashboard that also reads the driver’s mood from facial expressions and other cues.

According to Assaf Biderman, associate director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, “within a week AIDA will have figured out your home and work location. Soon afterwards the system will be able to direct you to your preferred grocery store, suggesting a route that avoids a street fair-induced traffic jam. On the way AIDA might recommend a stop to fill up your tank, upon noticing that you are getting low on gas. AIDA can also give you feedback on your driving, helping you achieve more energy efficiency and safer behavior.”

Control freaks might balk at what sounds like a robotic backseat driver, but the project envisions that a kind of symbiotic relationship will develop between the driver and AIDA, whereby both parties learn from each other and establish an effective bond.

There’s no indication of when or if the AIDA will start appearing in real world vehicles, but since the technology is being developed in a partnership between MIT and VW/Audi, expect at least some of the technology to make it into Audi vehicles in the future.