One of Hyundai’s recent concept cars was an electric vehicle named “45” in honor of its inspiration, another concept car from 45 years ago. When footage of a child-sized “Mini 45” surfaced, it was easy to conclude the car was a motorized toy for children. But Jalopnik got more information from Hyundai about this project, where we learned that was not nearly the whole picture.
The video (embedded below) explained this little vehicle is a concept car in its own right, and most of the video is a scripted performance illustrating their concept: using technology to help calm young patients in a hospital, reducing their anxiety as they faced treatment procedures. Mini 45 packs a lot more equipment than the toy cars available at our local store. The little driver’s heartbeat and breathing rate are monitored, and a camera analyzes facial expressions to gauge emotional stress. The onboard computer has an animated avatar who will try to connect with the patient, armed with tools like colorful animations, happy music, candy scent dispenser, and a bubble-blowing machine.
After watching the video masterfully edited to tug at our heartstrings (go blow your nose if you need to) we have many questions. If this was just Hyundai we would have dismissed it as a puff piece and moved on. But a children’s hospital in Barcelona was named as participant in this research project, lending some credibility to the claims. However, it’s not clear how many features shown were actually functional during hospital trial. For example, the UI on the adult-held tablet looks suspiciously like glitzy Hollywood fantasy UI instead of a real tablet app. The video ended with a few clips from the hospital trial, and children’s faces ranged from ecstatic to indifference. Not a surprise since different kids have different personalities.
While some were obviously thrilled to ride in an electric chariot of the future, others might have been better comforted by a trusted adult human instead of a robot. What was the metric for measuring success rate of calming young patients? Has the trial proved this to be a cost-effective solution to a problem that actually exists, or is this the result of a bunch of automotive engineers doing what they do best (build cars) to solve a non-existing problem?
Unsurprisingly, answers to such questions are not found in this Hyundai public relations exercise. But even in the absence of rigorous documentation, this project prompts us to ask if we want robots to monitor our body this closely. Is it a good idea to have computers know our moods? Do we want them to manipulate our emotions? As technology becomes ever more pervasive in our lives, these are not merely academic questions. Hyundai’s Mini 45 might be a cute little thing, but its ambitions raise questions that give us pause.