DEC 23, 2015 4:48 AM PST

A Car Controlled By The Brain?

While it is the 21st century, the promise of the Jetson existence of flying cars and robot housekeepers hasn’t actually been fulfilled. Electric cars are coming along, first as hybrids and now some fully electric cars are on the road. Innovations like sensing technology to warn the driver of nearby vehicles and cars that can parallel park themselves are becoming more common. And Google is teaming up with Ford Motor company to build a car that can drive itself while passengers relax and enjoy the ride. So what’s next? A mind controlled car could be China’s answer to that.
Can a car be controlled by the brain?

China's first mind controlled car has been developed by researchers in the northeast port city of Tianjin. A research team from Nankai University, in the Chinese port city of Tianjin, has spent two years working on a car that can be controlled by a human brain.
 
It works like this. A driver has a headset of wearable tech that can pick up brain signals. The driver can then think or visualize the car moving backwards and forwards as well as stopping. The car can even be locked and unlocked via the headset and the driver’s brain waves.
   
In an interview with news agency Reuters, researcher Zhang Zhao explained that the headset and equipment  include16 sensors that capture electroencephalogram (EEG) signals from the driver's brain. The other half of the equation is the software included on board the car. Zhao said,  "The tester's EEG signals are picked up by this (brain signal-reading) equipment and transmitted wirelessly to the computer. The computer processes the signals to categorize and recognize people's intention, then translates them into control command to the car. The core of the whole flow is to process the EEG signals, which is done on the computer.” 
 
The project was led by Associate Professor Duan Feng, from the university's College of Computer and Control Engineering . Feng stressed that the purpose of the project was not to have machines controlling our environment but rather to make machines that better serve the needs of people. He stated,  "Driverless cars' further development can bring more benefits to us, since we can better realize functions relating to brain controlling with the help of the driverless cars' platform. In the end, cars, whether driverless or not, and machines are serving for people. Under such circumstances, people's intentions must be recognized. In our project, it makes the cars better serve human beings." 
 
Concerns remain about the safety of such a car. If a driver were to become distracted, would the car stop unexpectedly or worse, fail to stop? The team in China are working on the technology that picks up the brain waves to solve any safety concerns. They hope that if the car were to become a reality, it would aid those who are disabled in getting around more independently.
 
The team working on the prototype at the university has partnered with the Chinese car company Great Wall Motor. There are no immediate plans to put it into production, since it can only go in one straight direction at this time.  Check out the video below to see more about the project and what it might mean for the future of automobile innovation.
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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