The Roadable Synapse is the Anti-Autonomous Vehicle
Phillip Keane posted on October 20, 2017 | 1487 views

Current research trends indicate that within a couple of decades, our cars will be electric and self-driving. But what if the future of the automobile isn’t what the industry is telling us?

This was the question posed by artist Jonathon Keats when he began his two-year collaboration with South Korean auto giant Hyundai and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

The Roadable Synapse: a car so annoying, it may just kill you. (Image courtesy of LACMA.)
The Roadable Synapse: a car so annoying, it may just kill you. (Image courtesy of LACMA.)

Keats is not so certain that cars of the future will be governed by artificial intelligence (AI) autopilot systems and has suggested that the future of road transportation may be geared toward greater integration between the car and human nervous system.

The problem with autonomous vehicles, according to Keats, is that self-driving cars will separate humans from the driving experience. His art project, The Roadable Synapse, has been designed to show how a greater bond between man and machine may be realized.

For two years, Keats worked with Hyundai engineer Ryan Ayler to design the systems and install them into a 2017 Hyundai Ioniq. The result? A car that plays music which dynamically changes its tempo according to the speed you drive, and makes you feel hungry when it runs low on fuel.

“There’s some evidence in the literature that gastric motility–externally mimicking the effect of a rumbling stomach–and cooling the stomach make you feel hungrier,” Keats said.

In the picture above, the car looks like a pretty standard model. The only indication that something is afoot is seen on the front wings of the car. Those black spinning things are anemometers (for measuring wind speed). Apparently, when the car is banking there is a difference in wind speed on either side of the car, and these anemometers are tied into the car audio system.

Keats said he uses “binaural hearing, which is how we naturally orient ourselves in space,” and this effect is akin to an extended proprioception, “as if the car’s skin is your skin.”

Well it’s certainly intriguing. And I know it’s just a concept for one of infinitely many possible futures but is there any actual point to it?

 

The Roadable Synapse… Seriously?

I tend to avoid editorializing, but I think I have to make an exception here.

While this project does raise some interesting points regarding autonomous vehicles (e.g., that they may not be the future), it seems highly unlikely that anything from the Roadable Synapse will materialize in the real world for a number of reasons.

Firstly, research has shown that listening to faster music while driving increases the risk of an accident.

Secondly, Keats has admitted that he is not a big fan of cars, has never owned a car and doesn’t drive. So, some of his points ring a little hollow. For example, the in-car entertainment system of the Roadable Synapse is designed to respond to engine changes. If the engine revs high, then the music will get louder, which means if the engine is straining to get up a hill, the music will begin to glitch.

Engine noise, vibration and even the smell of rusty coolant wafting through the air vents indicating an overheating engine: these are all perfectly valid feedback mechanisms.

Do we really need wind-speed sensors on the car to create a binaural soundtrack? Just open the windows and use your ears. Not only will you hear the environment outside (binaurally), but we have this amazing thing called the vestibular system that already tells you when the car is banking.

I don’t need a heat pad in my seatbelt to tell me the car is running out of gas. I can literally hear and feel the fuel system belching air from the tank as I put my foot down;the car feels lighter because the tank is empty and my head is covered in sweat because I foolishly drove past the last gas station for miles about five minutes ago. At the point, my synapses are already telling me that I’m out of gas.

One can’t help but feel that if Keats was a regular driver, he would have realized these things. Asking someone who doesn’t drive about the future of the driving experience seems analogous to asking a lifelong-vegan how to make the best bacon cheeseburger.

While I agree that autonomous vehicles will likely remove a large part of the visceral pleasure of driving, the Roadable Synapse is notan autonomous vehicle (and these gizmos are designed specifically for non-autonomous vehicles). This project is effectively drowning out all of the human senses that make driving a manual car a pleasure in the first place.

The manual driving experience is as exciting or as dull as the driver wants it to be. This project seems to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

The Roadable Synapse is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Got any thoughts? Good idea? Awful idea? Let us know in the comments.


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