How Gracenote is building a car stereo that senses your driving mood

When I’m driving in the rain on a dreary day, I like to listen some sultry and slightly dissonant jazz – maybe some Charles Mingus or even some Ornette Coleman – but when the sun’s out and there’s a large expanse of highway in front of me, I want to listen to something far more upbeat and bright. Wouldn’t it be great if my car stereo knew that and could select songs accordingly? Well, maybe one day it will.

The folks over at Gracenote(s sne) have hacked the Ford Focus(s f) to get it to play different kinds of music depending on the car’s current driving state. By tapping into the car’s Control Area Network (CAN) — the in-vehicle system that handles communications between the car’s different controls and interfaces — Gracenote was able to get trigger different songs by turning on the windshield wipers or accelerating over 50 mph.

Here’s a video Gracenote shot demonstrating the feat at Music Hack Day in San Francisco last weekend:

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Admittedly, programming a media player to cue up specific tracks whenever you perform a specific action is hardly a mood-sensing stereo. What Gracenote has done here is more of a proof-of-concept for Ford’s new OpenXC developer’s program. Using Ford’s OpenXC specs it built a CAN translator that opens up the vehicle performance and control data that would normally be locked within the car’s computer, making it accessible to the infotainment system. That’s never really been done before except in a case where a developer has worked in direct collaboration with an automaker.

Where Gracenote takes this technology next will be very interesting. Imagine if you could plug this info into Pandora’s music recommendations algorithm. Pandora(s p) already knows that when you’re in the mood to listen to the Rolling Stones, you’re also in the mood to listen to Alabama Shakes and other bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. Once Pandora learns you like to listen to the Rolling Stones when on the open highway with the top down, it effectively starts learning your driving moods.

When you hit traffic, your intelligent radio knows by your braking and acceleration patterns to shift to more a mellow station. If you’re heading downtown on Saturday night maybe some dance music at high volume is in order. And when the first sign of raindrops appear, your radio – well, my radio at least – would immediately start playing soulful hard bop.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Maridav