Brain-powered car highlights distraction danger

Monday, 18 November 2013

No, you haven't misread the headline, or woken up in the future - scientists have actually developed a car that's driven by brainwaves.

A partnership between developers Emotiv and the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia uses a specially created neuro-headset and customised software to connect drivers' brains to the engine of a Honda i40.

14 sensors in the headset monitor electrical activity in the frontal, temple, parietal and perceptual areas of the brain, which register activity when the driver is processing their actions on the road.
When activity falls below a certain level, signalling that the driver has become distracted, the software tells the accelerator to switch to idle, slowing the car safely to a halt.

The sensors in the headset are so advanced that they not only register when a driver is 'zoning out', but can spot when attention moves from the road to the radio, while a built-in gyroscope signals the software when the driver's eyes stray from the road.

Speaking to The Daily Mail, Emotiv chief technical officer Dr. Geoffrey Mackellar commented: "We can’t read thoughts, but we can figure out to a fair approximation what’s going on in the brain... we can generally detect if someone is alert, if they’re hearing things, whether they’re speaking, just from activity in different parts of the brain.

"We wanted to look for specific attention related to driving, and we can detect that with quite good accuracy."

Keeping track of your brainwaves while driving might sound like an Orwellian nightmare, but the quirky experiment does highlight the serious issue of driver distraction. Road safety charity Brake estimates that as many as 22% of accidents are caused by driver inattention, and a report released last week showed that a shocking 20% of drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel.

To avoid tiredness on long journeys, and the risk of unnecessary car insurance claims, we recommend:

• Taking regular rest stops - even a short stop in a brightly lit service station can reduce fatigue by convincing your body's natural rhythm that it's still daytime

• Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids

• Turning the air con down, or opening a window, to get your circulation going

• Chewing gum. Your body will produce insulin, waking up your system

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