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Mind-powered ‘Emotiv’ car safety system tested

Mon, 07 Oct 2013

Mind-controlled car (c) Getty-Ford

‘Neuroengineering’ company Emotiv has created a ‘mind-powered’ headset that can detect when a driver is distracted and automatically slow down the car, in an effort to improve safety.

The Australian firm has already brought its most recent mind-controlled device to market – the Epoc headset. It’s this high-tech brain activity monitor that has now been adapted to determine how hard a driver is concentrating on the road ahead.

On Bing: see pictures of the Epoc headset

Bosch autonomous car review (2013) – MSN tests driverless car

The new project has been commissioned by the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia as part of an exercise aiming to improve driver concentration.

According to the Australian RAC, 20% of all drivers involved in a crash in the country say they were staring directly at the object they hit, the impact eventually during a lapse in concentration.

The motoring body also estimates attention loss has been a contributing factor in 46% of fatal crashes in Australia.

This is where the Emotiv headset comes in. The device can monitor electrical signals from the brain using a total of 14 data recorders, including ‘six-axis inertial sensors’ comprising a ‘three-axis gyroscope and a three-axis accelerometer’.

It can interpret movements of the head, eyeballs, and even how often you blink.

By monitoring test subjects’ brain waves during various scenarios, including driving while on a mobile phone, texting or adjusting the radio, researchers could teach the technology what daydreaming or distracted driving looked like as an electrical signal.

All tests were, of course, conducted under safe, controlled conditions.

Once calibrated and linked to a car’s ECU – the electronic control unit that is the vehicle’s own brain – the system then actively slows the car down when it determines a driver is distracted. Once focus returns to the road, the vehicle’s speed increases again.

Speaking to Wired, Emotiv Research and Emotiv Lifesciences chief executive officer, Geoffrey Mackellar, outlined the biological principle behind the technology:

“The brain is basically an attention machine. The front part of the brain has to be active and very much involved in driving because the subconscious brain doesn’t know that driving out of a lane is going to cause a problem.”

Psychology PhD student at Murdoch University Lisa Jefferies, working in conjunction with the Australian RAC, elaborates:

“The fact is you cannot do more than one thing at a time usually, you are in fact switching from one to the other. Every time you switch, there’s a cost.”

When doing so behind the wheel, that cost is losing concentration on the road, often leading to a drop in driving standards.

If technology like Emotiv’s headset can improve road safety, that’s got to be a good thing – but would you be happy handing over control of your car to a mind-reading device?

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On Bing: see pictures of the Epoc headset

Bosch autonomous car review (2013) – MSN tests driverless car