Audi and MIT Develop the Road Frustration Index [Video]

You know what it’s like… Being stuck in the left lane behind someone driving ten under the speed limit.  Sitting in traffic for a hour, not moving, when you can see your destination a hundred feet away.  Driving through downtown at a snails pace while playing “avoid the crazy pedestrians with a death-wish.”  Often, driving is fun.  But sometimes, it’s really, really, really, really not.  In fact, sometimes, driving is less fun that having your tonsils removed with a hot ice cream scooper without the benefit of anesthesia while waiting in line at the DMV.

But just exactly how bad, how frustrating driving can be is difficult to quantify.  That is, until now.  Audi teamed up with researches at the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory to develop the first-ever index to quantify driver frustration, the Road Frustration Index (RFI).

The RFI looks at the individual factors like stress, road conditions and environmental factors that tend to lead to driver frustration.  Stress is measured through skin conductance sensors (similar to a polygraph test), heart rate, facial movement and body tracking.  The results are then compared to those of high-stress activities like skydiving or test-taking.  The results… well, according to the study, driving in urban traffic is as stressful as skydiving.  No surprise there.

For more info on the study, visit and check out the press release below.

Press Release

Audi and MIT develop first-ever index to quantify driver frustration

• Driving in chaotic urban traffic can be as nearly as stressful as skydiving, new study finds
• Study uses a blend of real-time driver and environmental data, such as road conditions and heart rate, to quantify the factors that lead to driver stress
• Findings to inform how current and future technology from Audi can help ease driver frustration on the road

Driving in chaotic urban traffic can be as nearly as stressful as jumping out of an airplane, according to new findings from an Audi and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study. To better understand the impact road frustrations have on motorists today, Audi joined forces with the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory to explore a wide range of measurements aimed at quantifying driver stress on the road today. For Audi, the research helps validate how the latest driver assistance and connectivity technologies found in most Audi models can help ease the stress of daily driving.

The research initiative, Road Frustration Index (RFI), seeks to narrow in on the individual factors that lead to driver frustration, providing Audi with insight toward finding solutions that make driving safer and more enjoyable. This new methodology quantifies and contextualizes driver stress and frustration using skin conductance sensors, facial/body tracking, and environmental recordings. Findings were compared with a variety of other activities – such as taking a test or engaging in adventure sports – to make the overall methodology and results more relatable.

“In addition to daily driving conditions, we are measuring stress levels under a variety of daily activities: at home, in the office, while having breakfast or attending a lecture at MIT. We found that certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives,” said Kael Greco, project leader, MIT SENSEable City Laboratory.

“The data we received is fascinating. One study showed that getting side swiped by an oncoming car can be almost as stressful as jumping out of a plane,” said Filip Brabec, Director of Product Management, Audi of America. “By working with MIT to identify stress points for drivers, Audi is able to anticipate the needs for future mobility. Audi has worked with MIT on other projects as part of a strategy to develop new technology and approaches with leading universities to better understand the conditions that lead to driver stress, and subsequently, to driver enjoyment.”

To calibrate the frustration algorithm, MIT designed a series of experiments that measure stress and frustration during real-world driving tasks using physiological sensors and an array of face/body tracking technologies, including: GPS to track the subject’s location and speed; cameras to monitor both the subject’s facial response and external driving environment; a modified Microsoft Kinect sensor to track the subject’s body movements; and skin conductance sensors to monitor the subject’s stress responses.

Preliminary trials have taken place in the Boston metropolitan area over a 12-month period. Trials cover a variety of roadway types, ranging from bustling highways to quiet suburban side streets, and variety of road conditions, from stop-and-go traffic patterns to confusing roadway navigation. Observations were validated both by a driver questionnaire administered after the trial and a score determined by observable events from the recorded video.

“Cities, blanketed with networks and digital devices, are developing new forms of intelligence. The same is happening inside our cars, which are increasingly filled with different kinds of connected sensors. From the intersection of these two trends will emerge tomorrow’s mobility systems – starting from the next generation of autonomous vehicles,” said Professor Carlo Ratti, director, MIT SENSEable City Laboratory.

The experiment is catalogued on The website allows for visitors to view the video documentation and explore some interactive maps and stress charts to get a better understanding of how stress and frustration are quantified.

MIT will conclude its research by publishing the RFI methodology and findings in a peer-reviewed journal later this year. 

Author: Nick Glasnovich

Founder & Executive Editor of

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