Last week, we began a discussion of an exciting new innovation developed in partnership between German researchers and the technology company Emotiv-based right here in San Francisco. The product is called BrainDriver, and it allows a motorist to control a car’s movements using only their mind.
Our last post offered a brief description of how BrainDriver works. In essence, a neuroheadset worn by the driver recognizes certain brain activity patterns, translates those patterns into commands, and transmits the commands to the car’s system. So can potential BrainDriver users simply put on a neuroheadset for the first time, jump in their car and go? Not exactly. The process is slightly more complicated than that, involving a training process meant to ensure that unprepared BrainDriver users will not compromise road safety and cause unnecessary car accidents.
BrainDriver’s researchers have asserted that, before using the device to operate a vehicle, drivers would need to undergo several session of mental training. During these sessions, the driver would learn how to move virtual objects with their thoughts. Only after mastering the basics of thought-controlled motion, would a driver be prepared to maneuver a brain powered car. The mental training sessions should ensure that motorists do not take the new technology to the road without knowing how to operate it safely.
The German scientists responsible for creating BrainDriver have strongly asserted that their demonstration was only intended to reveal the potential of their research, not suggest that mind-controlled cars are ready to hit the highways tomorrow. However, they do assert that human-machine interfaces such as BrainDriver could change the future of driving, especially taken in conjunction with driverless cars such as those tested by Google.
For many people, such as those who have suffered from paralysis or have lost an essential driving limb, BrainDriver and similar advancements could mean significantly more mobility and independence. For people who are forced to depend completely on others for transportation, this could signify a huge improvement in their quality of life.
However, despite the exciting potential benefits of technology such as BrainDriver, many people are still left wondering, is it safe? Are mental training sessions enough to teach a driver how to correctly use this technology? If released to the public, could BrainDriver make our roads more dangerous? Our next post will address these and other concerns which have arisen in the aftermath of BrainDriver’s debut.
Source: IEEE Spectrum, “BrainDriver: A Mind Controlled Car.” Markus Waibel, 17 February 2011