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Fascinating Patent Filing by State Farm

Sometimes other drivers can make you crazy. Maybe you’ve gestured to boneheaded motorists, safe in the anonymity of your car and the flow of traffic. Perhaps you’ve let your anger at other drivers get the best of you at times because there’s no one else in the car to judge.

But State Farm is on the case. It has developed plans to monitor your every move while you’re driving, measure your emotions, detect angry behavior and deliver stimuli such as music to calm you down.

The plans, as revealed in a patent application, would combine biometric measurements with automotive data to create a “total impairment score” that could be used to set customized car insurance rates.

“Every year, many vehicle accidents are caused by impaired vehicle operation,” State Farm says in its application, recently filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “One common kind of impaired vehicle operation is agitated, anxious or aggressive driving.”

Are you sweating, yelling or waving your arms while you drive? State Farm’s “emotion management system” would use a variety of sensors and cameras to monitor your biometrics, including:

  • Heart rate
  • Grip pressure on the steering wheel
  • Body temperature
  • Arm movement
  • Head direction and movement
  • Vocal amplitude and pattern
  • Respiration rate

The system could use “infrared optical brain imaging data” to get deeper inside your head. State Farm might even know if you’re giving the evil eye to another driver: Measurements include gaze direction and duration, eyelid opening and blink rate.

And impaired driving is not confined to angry and aggressive drivers. State Farm also would consider nervousness, distraction and drowsiness. Other sensors would keep track of your vehicle: Are you swerving, accelerating or driving too close to other objects?

[Compare car insurance quotes through NerdWallet’s Car Insurance Comparison Tool.]

Smell this and calm down

If you are “emotionally impaired” – as measured by State Farm, not your spouse – the patent-pending system would select and deliver stimuli to change your behavior. The patent application outlines a variety of options, including relaxing music, a recorded message, sounds of nature, fragrance or a blast of cold air. The system might even suggest you stop at a coffee shop or scenic overlook.

Robert Nemerovski, a licensed clinical psychologist in the San Francisco area and an expert on anger management and road rage, was skeptical about State Farm’s patent. He questioned whether an automated system could be sophisticated enough to account for the unique characteristics of individual drivers.

“I would be concerned about individual differences: people on medication, the elderly vs. the young,” he said. “Maybe they have PTSD, or they’re in recovery from a heart attack. [State Farm] would need to know nuances of human behavior and human bodies.”

In addition, “People don’t want someone patronizing you or telling you to calm down. I’m not sure it would be successful psychologically because it would be rather annoying,” he says.

state farm patent

State Farm’s depiction of an emotional impairment score on a mobile device, from its patent application.

State Farm envisions an “emotion management system” that goes beyond just monitoring behavior. The system would store profiles for each driver so, for example, it would learn which music might reduce your hard braking or persuade you to stop tailing the car in front of you. This might spell an end to your loud music.

Each time you end a trip, the State Farm system would analyze the data and update your impairment score, which you could check on your mobile device.

Because the purpose of the patent application is only to describe the system, it leaves many unanswered questions, including:

  • How much would it cost per vehicle?
  • Who would pay?
  • How often would you have to refill your fragrance containers?

State Farm, the nation’s largest car insurance provider, declined to comment on specifics of the patent application but provided this statement to NerdWallet: “State Farm is actively innovating in a number of areas that are important to improving how we meet the needs of our customers. The patent  . . . is just one example of State Farm’s innovation. Because of the nature of our innovation work and patent program, we are unable to provide further comments at this time.”

Angry about car insurance bills, too?

According to the application, State Farm is considering applying the “comprehensive impairment level” to car insurance in several ways, including:

  • Adjusting your insurance rate, up or down.
  • Requiring you to buy a minimum amount of auto insurance, or limiting how much it will sell you.
  • Offering you a discount for using the system.
  • Flagging your policy for possible cancellation.

While State Farm’s plans may never be implemented, the carrier clearly has many ambitious ideas about monitoring customer behavior, such as its previously described ideas to price car insurance by the trip and deliver targeted ads based on where you drive.

Many consumers aren’t aware that auto insurers are preparing to unleash a tsunami of such services based on telematics, systems that track your car and driving habits. Progressive was the first to enter the space and dominated it for a while with its Snapshot usage-based insurance program.

“Other big auto insurers don’t want to be in second or third place again,” says Donald Light, director of North America property/casualty insurance for Celent, a research and consulting firm that focuses on information technology in financial services.

“I believe in about five years it will be a standard part of an auto insurance policy,” Light says.  “Insurers will say, ‘If you don’t want to use it that’s fine, too, but we’ll charge you based on not having it.’”

Light sees one large hurdle to State Farm’s emotion-management plan: The company will have to convince state insurance regulators that the emotional impairment scores accurately reflect risk.

“The key qualifier is that these kinds of data have to make actuarial significant difference in the ‘risk’ of different drivers,” Light says. For example, if State Farm wants to charge more based on driver agitation, the company will have to prove that agitation causes crashes.

Nemerovski says State Farm’s emotional management system might appeal to millennials, who are comfortable with the idea of measuring physical and other metrics so they can be improved.

“But I don’t think people would want it to be shoved down their throats,” he says.

Driver Safety Ratings Add Sophistication

According to patent applications recently filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Allstate is planning a driver safety scoring system that will take into account speed laws, road signs, traffic signals, weather and possibly even biometric data such as your heart rate. These driver safety ratings would then be used to determine what kind of car insurance you can buy and how much you’ll pay.

Allstate’s plans are part of a wider effort in the industry to gather telematics data from today’s advanced vehicles, smartphones and other devices. Many insurers already offer “usage-based insurance” programs that set rates based on actual driving behavior, such as Allstate’s Drivewise, Progressive’s Snapshot and State Farm’s Drive Safe. If you tailgate, speed, drive through high-crime neighborhoods or even drive at night, insurance companies might be able to justify charging higher rates, regardless of whether you get a ticket or cause an accident. You’ll probably find yourself getting a driving score for each trip, even paying different insurance amounts each time you go out.

Filing a patent application doesn’t guarantee that a plan will ever be used, but, within five years, it might be hard to find an auto insurance company that doesn’t have a plan to score your driving and use that score for setting your rate, says David Lukens, director of telematics at data analytics company LexisNexis.

If insurers don’t want to develop their own scoring system, they can buy one. LexisNexis, which has tracked and analyzed more than a billion miles of driving behavior based on data from insurers that have telematics customers, has developed its own system for scoring driving behavior and offers it to insurers.

Allstate declined to comment on details of its patent but said it “is committed to shaping the future of insurance to add more value and best serve customers’ changing needs.” The company’s statement to NerdWallet added that “Allstate treats this information confidentially, enabling customer control over the distribution of their personal information.”

Allstate’s system wouldn’t necessarily operate silently while you speed and blow through stop signs. The patent application describes incorporating real-time feedback such as warnings that you’re driving over the speed limit or approaching a stop sign—much like a spouse who yells “Watch out!” from the passenger seat.

This is similar to a system being developed by State Farm (first described by NerdWallet) that would measure driver emotions and respond with in-vehicle stimuli such as music and even fragrances to improve driving.

Allstate’s proposed system for rating drivers could incorporate more than just data from the car. For example, the insurer is considering monitoring and evaluating your heart rate, electrocardiograph signals and blood pressure through sensors embedded in the steering wheel.

According to another patent filed in 2014, Allstate is also working on a game-like system where groups of drivers would encourage each another to drive better to improve the overall driving score of the group. Allstate calls it “geotribing.” Allstate imagines this as a kind of high school scenario where the baseball team is competing with the basketball team to see which group can capture the better score to earn rewards.

Real-time driving scores could be monitored remotely by all members of the group. Allstate’s hope is that this “creates a self-policing atmosphere.” The sense of always being watched should make drivers “more conscious of practicing safe driving habits,” according to the patent.

Lukens says such group encouragement can make a big impact on driving habits—if done the right way. “It gets iffy when it comes [down] to allowing people to comment on other people’s behavior,” he says. “You can’t control the way people talk to each other.” Encouragement could devolve into bullying.

Many consumers seem interested in getting driver scores and improving their own driving. In March 2015, LexisNexis asked slightly more than 2,000 consumers whether they would be interested in a smartphone app that measures their driving score and offers ways to drive better, without any insurance discount. Fifty-nine percent said it would be nice to know their score, and 50% liked the idea of improving their score. But only 28% said they were interested in comparing their scores to others.

Although you might not be forced into a scoring program, Lukens says you should expect to pay higher rates in the future if you opt out. Allstate says, in one of its patent applications, that drivers who decline to participate might be signaling concern “that the information would demonstrate less-than-ideal [driving] behavior.”

Allstate is also considering how to leverage all this data for additional business opportunities. For example, it says a person who has a specific spending and credit profile—and who refuses to share her driving data—“may be particularly receptive to an ad campaign for luxury sports cars or certain vacation travel.” Similarly, NerdWallet has previously reported that State Farm has made plans to collect customer data for targeted advertising.

Driving scores aren’t on the horizon; they’re already here. Insurance companies are, right now, internally testing them. In fact, Lukens says, if you are a customer of a usage-based insurance program, you already have a score, even if your insurer hasn’t told you about it.

Lack of Enthusiasm for Driverless Cars?

Automakers will have to focus on women if they hope to make driverless cars mainstream, according to a NerdWallet survey that shows men are far more likely to express interest in the new technology. The survey of more than 1,000 Americans nationwide also exposes a sharp divide in views on self-driving vehicles between Millennials and older Americans.

Only 37% of women surveyed by NerdWallet expressed any interest in owning a self-driving car, whereas half of men expressed interest.

The survey also found that 53% of respondents ages 18 to 29 were “very interested” or “somewhat interested” in owning a self-driving car, compared with just 41% of those 30 and older.

Consumers Are Skeptical About Driverless Cars

Among key findings of the survey:

  • Most women expressed concern about the safety of self-driving cars, with 55% citing safety as among the biggest drawbacks of the new technology. Only 37% of men were worried about safety.
  • 44% of men were concerned that driverless cars will take the fun out of driving; only 23% of women felt that way.
  • Consumers have a limited amount of trust in autonomous car technology. When asked whether they would put a child alone in a driverless car to go to school or a friend’s house, only 6% of those surveyed would close the door and wave goodbye.
  • While consumers are not yet ready to embrace a driverless world, they are interested in safety technologies that are paving the way for fully autonomous vehicles. Blind-spot detection was by far the most popular new technology, with 42% citing it as the most appealing feature of semi-autonomous cars, followed by emergency braking to prevent crashes, favored by 30%.

Self-driving cars are here

Self-driving cars, also known as autonomous vehicles, once seemed the stuff of science fiction, but they are already testing on the highway and seem certain to end up in dealer showrooms before long. Yet our survey of more than 1,000 Americans found a distinct lack of enthusiasm toward the prospect of driverless cars, with only a small minority “very interested” in buying one and nearly twice as many saying they were “not at all interested.”

Nevertheless, a transition to autonomous cars seems inevitable.

Google recently announced that it will begin putting its self-driving cars on public roads in Mountain View, CA, this summer. Over six years of testing, Google says its cars have been involved in only 11 accidents – none of which was the fault of the Google car. In most cases, the cars were rear-ended.

A self-driving Audi recently completed a trip from San Francisco to New York in nine days, driving in automated mode 99% of the time, according to Delphi Automotive, which made the technology.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently announced a software upgrade for some of the maker’s electric cars that will make it possible for the cars to drive from San Francisco to Seattle without human input – “from parking lot to parking lot,” as he put it at a news conference. However, the full autopilot feature will not be enabled, at least initially, he said.

While our survey found Americans as a whole relatively unenthusiastic about driverless cars, men were far more likely than women to express interest.

Interest in Owning a Driverless Car

Self-driving cars use GPS and a variety of sensors (cameras, radar and lasers) to scan and identify the environment around the car. A computer in the car processes data from the sensors to decide on driving actions such as steering, braking and turning. Cars would be networked, using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication to talk to one another. Ultimately, a human driver becomes just another passenger and would be able to sit back and do other things while en route.

The potential for reducing car accidents could be significant. After all, the computer never takes its “eyes” off the road, never gets distracted, never gets tired.

On May 13, Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation will fast-track rules to require V2V communication in future cars.

Still, many people are firm in their resistance to driverless vehicles: 28% vow they will never purchase a driverless car. Only a very small contingent (3%) is ready to buy a self-driving car right now. The majority of those surveyed (51%) would wait three years or longer after such cars became available before considering buying one.

When People Would Buy a Driverless Car

NerdWallet also wanted to find out what would be appealing about driverless cars that could potentially win over customers. While more than one-third of consumers (36%) did not find anything appealing about driverless cars, about the same percentage liked the ideas of saving on car insurance and letting the car handle routine driving tasks.

What People Like About Driverless Cars

Notably, fewer than one-third of people found the potential for improved safety to be a compelling reason to own a driverless car.

The older the age group, the more likely respondents were to say they couldn’t find anything appealing about driverless cars, from a low of 26% among those ages 18 to 29, to 44% among those age 60 and older.

Safety and cost are top worries

Safety concerns are a major drawback of self-driving cars, according to 46% of respondents, but cost was the biggest worry.

What People Don't Like About Driverless Cars

Concern about safety also bubbled up when we asked about car insurance rates. Typically, cars that crash less are rewarded with lower auto insurance rates. But only 41% of people think owners of self-driving cars should pay less for insurance.

As another measure of trust in autonomous car technology, we asked whether people would put a child in a self-driving car alone to go to school or a friend’s house. Only 6% gave a thumbs-up to that idea. Most people (76%) said no, and the rest were unsure.

However, people did show interest in safety technologies such as collision avoidance, suggesting the possibility that they will eventually come around to self-driving cars if they can be sold on the cars’ safety promises (and if men can still have a little fun). Only 9% of people said they had no interest in any of the technologies we asked about.

Most Desired Advanced Technology Features

A few are ready to spend today

There’s a very small, enthusiastic contingent of people who are ready to embrace driverless cars today: 3% of respondents say they would purchase a driverless car today if they could, and 6% say they’d be willing to pay more than $10,000 extra for a fully autonomous car over a regular car.

Another 15% say they would pay $5,001 to $10,000 more. (Experts generally predict that self-driving cars will cost about $7,000 to $10,000 more than regular cars when they are introduced, with the price differential decreasing in subsequent years.) But pessimism about the value of autonomous cars still prevails: 50% of people say they wouldn’t pay a dime more.

Methodology

NerdWallet conducted a national, online survey of 1,028 randomly selected Americans ages 18 and older on May 12-13, 2015, via SurveyMonkey. Respondents were 52% female and 48% male. By age, 22% were under 30, and 26% were over 60. Margin of error: four percentage points.

For the full study, click here.