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Driving with a smile

 Published 17th November 2022
Driver Guides  General Guides 

Leasing a car that puts a smile on your face isn't particularly difficult. There are lots of possible options, ranging from Italian supercars to cute little city cars. What is much harder is finding a car that knows it's putting a smile on your face. For that you'll need an Abarth…and a bunch of boffins from Loughborough University.

Performance car brand, Abarth – Fiat's performance division - has become the first manufacturer to trial facial recognition technology to better understand the emotions experienced when you drive its cars. Working in partnership with the aforementioned boffins, Abarth carried out the experiment to discover the differing emotions experienced as both driver and passenger.

Participants were given the freedom of the Mallory Park circuit for a series of driving challenges including hot laps, precision driving tasks, and chase scenarios. Driving laps in an Abarth F595, a 595 Esseesse and a 595 Competizione, emotions including happiness, excitement, and fear were then measured.

State-of-the-art facial recognition technology and heart rate sensors were used, allowing Abarth to accurately detect an array of emotions among individuals. The data was then analysed using DeepFace Python library and Facial Emotion Recognition library.

Abarth drive with a smile

Dr Dale Esliger at Loughborough University, who led the trial, said: “The constellation of biometric equipment that we used allowed us to accurately detect an array of emotions that were experienced when driver's and passenger's get into an Abarth, while detecting the most prominent emotion during the respective driving activities.”

Hap, hap, hap, hap, happy!

The results showed the most prominent feeling during a hot lap was happiness, both when behind the wheel (31.8%) and as a passenger (35.4%). When driven by professional drivers who pushed the car to its full potential, participants experienced short bursts of fear and shock (11.9%), which only contributed to a thrilling track day experience. If you've ever been fortunate enough to do a hot lap of a track with someone who really knows how to drive you'll recognise that feeling.

Greg Taylor, Fiat and Abarth, UK Managing Director, added: “We always knew anecdotally that the levels of joy our cars bring to the driver and passengers, but now we have some preliminary data from one of the world's leading sport universities to back that up.

Starting from the Abarth F595, all Abarth's offer performance, adrenaline, and excitement when on the road. With Koni rear suspension you feel more connected to the road giving a sporty driving experience and superior control over performance. It turns out the howl of an Abarth at full chat is not only exciting on the road, but it's also the recipe for a brilliant track day car.

Research within this area is certainly going to give manufacturers something else to think about when they design a new car. If making a car desirable is the aim then making one that puts a massive smile on your face must be half the job done.

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