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October 19, 2001
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Toyota, Sony make mood-sharing tail-wagging car

Edwina Gibbs

Think you don't have enough of an emotional attachment to your car?

A new vehicle developed by Japan's Toyota Motor Corp and electronics giant Sony Corp will smile, frown and cry, not to mention take your pulse and measure your sweat.

Toyota and Sony's new vehicle called the 'pod' Called the 'pod', the car, which has been designed to show emotion and learn from driver experience, will be on display for the first time at the Tokyo Motor Show that begins next week.

"This concept car explores the potential for communication between people and their vehicle," Toyota said in its preview information.

The face of the four seater, 1.5 litre engine pod has U-shaped grooves that light up to express emotion, the headlights positioned mid-way to look like eyes and side-mirrors positioned to look like ears.

When its owner approaches, it lights up a happy orange-yellow. Puncture a tyre or run out of fuel, it lights up blue, complete with a display of tear-drops. Swerve sharply or brake too hard and the colour is an angry red. The back of the car, similar in design to the front, has a tail-like wagging antenna.

The car is driven with a joystick-type controller and does not have footpedals, but it does have sensors to detect a driver's emotional state and give advice in driving.

It takes pre-recorded data of an expert driver, compares it with the current driver's style, and displays words of praise or warning on a centre monitor.

The pod can also tell when the driver is in a hurry, measuring the degree of acceleration, the distance from the car in front and the pulse and perspiration of the driver.

Not only will it display a warning, but it will try to calm the driver down with relaxing music and by blowing cool air.

Memorising its driver's driving style, the pod automatically adapts operating characteristics to the optimal level for that person. For example, by softening shock absorbers on rough roads and stiffening suspension on winding roads.

Nor does it forget those special moments, taking photos when the tone of the conversation indicates it is a happy one.

A small portable terminal, called a mini-pod will memorise the musical and TV programme preferences of the driver and choose background music and provide shopping information.

Approach the car with the mini-pod and it lights up, opens the door, swivels the seat for easy entry as well as adjusting the seat's height. Switch off the engine with mini-pod, and the car falls in height and bids the driver farewell.

Toyota, which has been keen to woo younger drivers and Sony which has been developing interactive technologies seen in its robot-dog Aibo, have been working on the car since last year.

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