The start line of a racing track

Loughborough partners with performance car brand, Abarth, to trial facial recognition technology

  • Performance car brand, Abarth, has turned to facial recognition technology to quantify the emotions experienced when driving and being a passenger
  • Conducted by Loughborough’s Dr Dale Esliger, participants were put through driving challenges at Mallory Park racetrack
  • Facial recognition technology detected an array of emotions through facial expressions when driving, from happiness, excitement and fear
  • The prominent feeling was happiness when both behind the wheel (31.8%) and as a passenger (35.4%)

Working in partnership with Loughborough University, performance car brand, Abarth, has become the first manufacturer to trial facial recognition technology to better understand the emotions experienced when in its car.

Abarth carried out the experiment to discover the differing emotions experienced by the driver and passenger.

Driving two Abarth vehicles, participants were put through driving challenges including hot laps, precision driving tasks, and chase scenarios at Mallory Park, Leicestershire. Emotions including happiness, excitement, and fear were then measured as passengers were driven by professional drivers.

The results showed the most prominent feeling during a hot lap was happiness, both when behind the wheel (31.8%) and as a passenger (35.4%).

When at speed by driven by professional drivers, participants experienced short bursts of fear and shock (11.9%), contributing to a thrilling track day experience.

State-of-the-art facial recognition technology was used alongside heart rate sensors - Electrocardiogram (ECG) and Photoplethysmography (PPG)* - allowing Abarth to accurately detect an array of emotions among individuals.

The data was then analysed using DeepFace Python library and Facial Emotion Recognition library.

Dr Dale Esliger, a Reader in Digital Health from the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, led the trial. He said: “The constellation of biometric equipment that we used allowed us to accurately detect an array of emotions that were experienced when driver’s and passenger’s get into an Abarth, while detecting the most prominent emotion during the respective driving activities.

“Research within this remit is limited, however, I suspect it will be an area within the automotive industry that will continue to be explored, as manufacturers strive to improve the driving experiences of their cars.”

Greg Taylor, Fiat and Abarth, UK Managing Director, added: “We always knew anecdotally that the levels of joy our cars bring to the driver and passengers, but now we have some preliminary data from one of the world's leading sport universities to back that up.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 22/199

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2022 QS World University Rankings – the sixth year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.