Imagine you could drive your car using only your thoughts. German researchers have just made that possible – and they have the video to prove it. Following his recent interview on the Robots Podcast about autonomous vehicles, Raul Rojas, an AI professor at the Freie Universitat Berlin, and his team have demonstrated how a driver can use a brain interface to steer a vehicle. Here’s what the researchers say about the project, which they call the BrainDriver:
After testing iPhone, iPad and an eye-tracking device as possible user interfaces to maneuver our research car, named “MadeInGermany,” we now also use Brain Power. The “BrainDriver” application is of course a demonstration and not roadworthy yet, but in the long run human-machine interfaces like this could bear huge potential in combination with autonomous driving.
To record brain activity, the researchers use an Emotiv “neuroheadset” an electroencephalography, or EEG, sensor by San Francisco-based company Emotiv, which design it for gaming. After a few rounds of “mental training,” the driver learns to move virtual objects only by thinking. Each action corresponds to a different brain activity pattern, and the BrainDriver software associates the patterns to specific commands – turn left, turn right, accelerate etc. The researchers then feed these commands to the drive-by-wire system of the vehicle, a modified Volkswagen Passat Variant 3c. Now the driver’s thoughts can control the engine, brakes, and steering.
To road test their brain-controlled car, the Germans headed out to the former airport in Berlin Tempelhof. The video below shows a driver thought-controlling the car, Yoda-style. “Don’t try this at home,” the narration says, only half-jokingly.
The researchers caution that the BrainDriver application is still a demonstration and is not ready for the road. But they say that future human-machine interfaces like this have huge potential to improve driving, especially in combination with autonomous vehicles. As an example, they mention an autonomous cab ride, where the passenger could decide, only by thinking, which route to take when more than one possibility exist.
This type of non-invasive brain interface could also allow disabled and paralyzed people to gain more mobility in the future, similarly to what is already happening in applications such as robotic exoskeletons and advanced prosthetics.