Mind Over Matter

Driverless and self-driving cars are all the rage nowadays. Even governments are getting in on the action, working on relevant regulation and pledging to support development of the field or to encourage more driverless vehicles on their roads. But is driverless and self-driving really the only way to go?

Maybe not. Chinese engineers have developed a system for reading brain signals and translating them into car movements. In short, mind-controlled cars.

Engineers from Nankai University, located in China's north-east port city of Tianjin, have created a headset consisting of 16 sensors that capture EEG (electroencephalogram) signals from the driver's brain. They then created computer software that will allow the brain signal-reading equipment to control the car going forward, backwards, coming to a stop, and both locking and unlocking the vehicle. The core of the whole system is processing of the EEG signals in the computer.


Future Fears

The common fear is that this would make roads more hazardous, due to the prevalence of distracted drivers or distracting advertisements. According to the project's leader, Associate Professor Duan Feng, these fears are unfounded. Concentration is needed only when significant actions are to be done, such as changing lanes or turning. No constant need for focus is needed, other than that normally required by a driver.

The researchers got their original inspiration from wanting to help physically disabled people currently unable to operate a vehicle. "There are two starting points of this project. The first one is to provide a driving method without using hands or feet for the disabled who are unable to move freely; and secondly, to provide healthy people with a new and more intellectualized driving mode," said Zhang Zhao, one of the researchers, to Reuters.



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