Mood Cubes – a cure for a case of the Mondays?

Steve Boese Audacious Ideas, Employee Relations, HR Technology, Science, Steve Boese

I’m more of a general tech guy than a car guy, but in the last century the track record of technical innovation in the car industry, and how many of the tech breakthroughs from the car industry eventually find their way into more mainstream application (Henry Ford and mass production, OnStar – essentially Siri, just in your car and with a real person on the other end of the connection, the 6 CD player, and more) makes keeping an eye on the latest developments from that industry consistently interesting and often relevant to the larger world of workplace technology and to the workplace itself.

A recent piece of news, this time from researchers at Toyota, is a perfect case in point. Toyota is working on a new facial recognition technology that can ‘read’ the mood of a driver, and then make subtle, yet important adjustments to the car’s other systems so that they will perform more optimally based on the driver’s mood and posture.  From a piece posted on, here are some more details of the system:

Toyota is designing safety technology that will react to the driver’s mood and adjust how the car behaves when faced with a hazard.

The technology decides if the driver is sad, happy, angry or neutral, before assessing how distracted they are likely to be as a result. It can then intervene with safety reminders if required.

Toyota’s research suggests an angry or upset driver is less alert to hazards such as a child stepping out in the road, or stationary traffic ahead. In these circumstances, the system would sound an alert sooner than if the driver was considered to have a neutral expression.

Toyota’s prototype technology uses a camera to identify facial emotions by taking readings from 238 points on the driver’s face. The multiple readings allow the system to function even if the subject is wearing sunglasses or sporting a beard.

Pretty cool, and to me the idea of this kind of ‘mood recognition/early warning system’ could easily translate to the workplace in the future. Can you see the potential in rigging up a set of cameras in office cubes and have them linked to some kind of LCD display mounted on the outside of the cube wall that would warn or at least inform anyone approaching or in the area of the potential harm that may befall them if and when the cube-dweller’s mood is say, ‘less than cheery?’ If the warning screen is glowing red, then bother me at your peril kind of a thing.

You could even link the camera’s readings and system assessment of mood to an online company directory so that when other employees perform look-ups on their colleagues, they can get some idea of the mood or state of mind before calling them to drop some additional work on them, or to inform them that, ‘Uh, yeah, I’m going to need you to come in on Saturday. And, yeah, I’m going to have to ask you to come in on Sunday too.’

Finally, organizational leadership could be provided a high-level dashboard of the organizational frame of mind that could be generated by assembling and combining all the data points from the mood-cameras in the cubes, trends could be analyzed, and they can even be prompted to make the occasional ‘I better cheer up Pam in Purchasing’, she is reading out at ‘Stay the hell away from me’ for the fourth day in a row.

It’d be great wouldn’t it? Always knowing how people are feeling without having to actually talk to them.

I see a big market for these systems, if not for Toyota, for parents of teenagers everywhere.

Steve Boese

Steve Boese is fondly known to many as the HR Technology blogger. By day, he is the Co-Chair of Human Resource Executive’s HR Technology Conference. He is also a former Director of Talent Management Strategy at Oracle and an HR Technology instructor. Steve can also be found hosting the HR Happy Hour Show and Podcast … you know, where a bunch of HR pros get together and call in to talk about HR stuff. Sounds like an SNL skit, we know. But when you have Dave Ulrich, the grandfather of HR as show guests, well, I guess you’re doing something right.  Talk to Steve via emailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook.