There seems to be no end to the technological advances being developed for cars and other vehicles these days. From the ability to unlock your car with your fingerprint to the automatic adjustment of the air pressure in your tires when the temperature outside shifts, automobiles today are true feats of engineering. And soon, your car will be able to recognize your face and distinguish its owner from other human beings – taking us all into truly uncharted territory.

Cars That Know When You’ve Had a Haircut

Automaker Fiat Chrysler (FCAU)is already developing facial recognition technology in partnership with software developer Panasonic Automotive (PCRFY). According to the two companies, the technology is so advanced, it will be able to tell if the driver of the car has had a haircut, grown a beard or is wearing new eyeglasses. Executives at Chrysler have been demonstrating the advanced facial recognition software as part of the company’s Portal electric minivan concept. Early glimpses of the Portal minivan have included a camera placed behind the steering wheel that scans the motorist’s face and recognizes him or her as soon as the driver enters the vehicle. After the initial scan, the minivan would commit the driver’s face to memory and recognize subtle changes in the operator’s appearance, like those mentioned above.

That’s not all. The facial recognition technology would also maintain a detailed profile of the motorist’s personal preferences – including preferred radio stations, seat positioning, address book and even personal calendar/electronic day timer. All of these preferences and the profile information would be stored in the cloud. In the very near future, your car will be able to greet you personally when it sees you get into the driver’s seat, and than automatically tune to your favorite radio station or dictate your afternoon schedule to you. Developers are even working on exterior cameras that could identify a car’s driver walking towards the vehicle and take automatic steps to adjust the seat, radio and climate control before the operator has even entered the vehicle.

Same Technology Used in Smartphones and Tablets

Software developer Panasonic Automotive developed the facial recognition system it is now piloting with Sensory Inc., a Silicon Valley concern that has done extensive facial and voice recognition work for smartphones, tablets and laptops.

“The technology has been proven out in millions of Android phones,” Don Turner, associate director of advanced engineering at Panasonic Automotive, told the “Automotive News” recently. “Fiat Chrysler is evaluating it, and we are showing pieces of this solution to other automakers.”

Turner added that he expects to see facial recognition technology in a number of vehicles by the year 2020. Other automakers such as Jaguar (TTM) have patented facial recognition technology for its Land Rover vehicle. Ford Motor Co. (F)has partnered with technology giant Intel for a suite of biometric identifiers in cars. In time, the facial recognition technology is expected to be paired with voice recognition software to provide a full driver identification system for cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles that is expected to take vehicle security to the next level.

Privacy Concerns

Of course, all of this technology and storing of personal information has raised concerns among consumer watchdog groups, who claim that people don’t know who is going to access their personal information or how it will be used.

“It's a huge concern,” John Simpson, privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, told the “New York Times.” “All that data is in some database without your consent or knowledge about how it’s going to be used.”

Major technology companies such as Google and Facebook have faced lawsuits in recent years over their facial recognition technology, which some consumers have complained violate state laws concerning biometric information privacy. (See: Could Facebook, Google Survive a Face Recognition Lawsuit? [FB, GOOG]) Laws on biometrics and privacy vary from state to state and are open to judicial interpretations. But scanning people’s faces and collecting the data, along with personal information, will no doubt be viewed unfavorably by a segment of the car-buying public.

The Bottom Line

 We are truly entering a brave new world when it comes to automotive technology, and facial recognition software is leading the way. While it may seem cool that in a few years our cars will be able to identify us from across the street and automatically customize the interior of our vehicle to suit our tastes, such advances raise serious concerns around the issue of privacy and the collection of people’s personal data. In the end, a balance will have to be reached between pushing the technology in cars forward and safeguarding people’s biometric information.

You may also want to read The 5 Most Hackable Cars for Cyber-Crooks and Is Your Car Safe from Cyber Crime?

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