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Bentley's New App Uses Facial Recognition to Point You to the Ideal SUV


In what it's billing as a "luxury commissioning experience," Bentley has launched its Inspirator app with a compelling promise: To use your emotions to recommend you the perfect Bentayga SUV.

VML London powered the app, available on iPad and iPhone, with emotion metric algorithms and data from 3.4 million faces across 75 countries. It creates a pinpoint model of your face, then gauges changes to your expression while you watch a series of "lifestyle-themed visual stimuli"—like pretty dresses, a turquoise sea or the ballet.

In theory, your reactions define each film that follows the first. As you advance, your dream SUV (assuming you dream about sport utility vehicles) is customized in the background. Other Bentley cars will be included in the app over time.

Having downloaded the Inspirator, we can say a few things: To begin with, it's impressive that it recognizes when your face moves off-screen or is blocked (say, by your coffee mug). When this happens, it stops your magic face-reading session to get you back in sync.

It's probably better on the iPad than the iPhone, but is awkward to use either way: To function, your whole face needs to be in-frame for the entire length of the short videos, so the device needs to be right in front of you and at a certain distance. If you're in the market for a Bentley, this is probably not a problem: You probably have very precise servants, or a tripod made of diamonds, to hold it in the right position.

It's also hard to avoid caricaturing the "right" expression when you see or hear something you generally like (or don't); while the smooth-talking, calm—yet somehow still rugged!—narrator walks you through each video, it still feels like watching a cobbled-together Getty slideshow ... which makes the experience feel inorganic and not all that luxurious, actually.

Here's a shot of the app reading my face over my cool, blue, light-blocking supers-pecs:

And here's the car Bentley recommended:

Once the results come out, you naturally want details about why the car was chosen. Apart from the three images you see above the car (one of which I'm pretty sure I scowled at), it wasn't clear there were any. You can learn more about the car's specs, and further customize it if you want, but Bentley doesn't elaborate on what makes the Moccachino especially "me." (Unless it just matches to skin color, in which case... good job! We will always match.)

Still, this is a promising way to make customization—often a confusing and paralyzing process—fun for the tech-savvy (yet refined!) end user, and generally we like where we think this is headed. Facial recognition technology is already pretty sophisticated; if applied alongside stimuli that's genuinely interesting and varied—like that crazy Fellini-inspired short film David Beckham did for Belstaff—the data might yield more worthwhile results.

But hey, that's what app updates are for.

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