In Back to the Future 2, Michael J. Fox schools some kids on a Wild Gunman arcade machine at the retro 80s cafe, only to have a very young Elijah Wood say “You have to use your hands? That’s a baby game.” Well, one day in the future driving may be like that, where only beginners will use their hands to drive and everyone else will control cars with thought.
The collaboration, between Nissan and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is intended to balance the necessities of road safety with demands for personal transport.
Scientists at the EPFL have already developed brain-machine interface (BMI) systems that allow wheelchair users to manoeuvre their chairs by thought transference. Their next step will be finding a way to incorporate that technology into the way motorists interact with their cars.
If the endeavour proves successful, the vehicles of the future may be able to prepare themselves for a left or right turn – choosing the correct speed and positioning – by gauging that their drivers are thinking about making such a turn.
However, although BMI technology is well established, the levels of human concentration needed to make it work are extremely high, so the research team is working on systems that will use statistical analysis to predict a driver’s next move and to “evaluate a driver’s cognitive state relevant to the driving environment”.
By measuring brain activity, monitoring patterns of eye movement and scanning the environment around the car, the team thinks the car will be able to predict what a driver is planning to do and help him or her complete the manoeuvre safely.
Lucian Gheorghe, who joined Nissan’s mobility research centre after graduating in computer science and artificial intelligence from Kobe University, Japan, said he believed the joint project could benefit both scientists and motorists.
“Brain wave analysis has helped me understand driver burden in order to reduce driver stress,” he said. “During our collaboration with EPFL, I believe we will not only be able to contribute to the scientific community but we will also find engineering solutions that will bring us close to providing easy access to personal mobility for everyone.”
That sounds fantastic, because it’s already awful enough when someone in front of you can’t decide whether to turn right or left with their hands. Imagine if they’re trying to do that with thought, all while trying to control their radio with thought and think to their car of an awesome restaurant to drive to while ogling the big breasted jogger on the sidewalk beside him.
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