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Hitting the brakes by reading drivers’ minds

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July 28, 2011

The team recorded brain signals of subjects using a driving simulator

The team recorded brain signals of subjects using a driving simulator

With human error the predominant cause of car accidents, automatic braking systems like the Pedestrian Detection system found in the Volvo S60 use cameras and sensors to assist drivers in detecting oncoming hazards and automatically applying the brakes. Now a team of researchers from the Berlin Institute for Technology has found a way to improve the response times of drivers by reading their minds. Using electroencephalography (EEG) by attaching electrodes to the scalp the researchers demonstrated that reading driver's brain signals can provide quicker reaction times to potentially prevent many of the car accidents caused by human error.

The team's study hooked 18 participants up to an EEG and placed them in a driving simulator to identify the parts of the brain that are most active when braking. After initial EEG recordings identified the relevant parts of the brain, the researchers tweaked the system accordingly. In addition to EEG, the researchers also examined myoelectric (EMG) activity, which is caused by muscle tension in the lower leg and can be used to detect leg motion before it actually moves to the brake pedal.

To recreate real driving conditions, the participants were asked to stay within a 20 m (65 ft) distance whilst maintaining a speed of 100 km/h (62 mph) behind a computer-controlled lead vehicle traveling along a road that contained sharp curves and dense oncoming traffic. At random intervals, the vehicle in front braked rapidly to trigger an emergency braking situation.

As the subjects reacted, data was collected from the EEG and EMG. The time taken to release the accelerator and press the brake pedal, as well as the deceleration of both vehicles and the distance between them was also recorded.

The study also used hybrid systems that use external lasers and sensors that detect a potential crash and trigger an emergency braking procedure as soon as the brake pedal is pressed.

The researchers found that a mind-reading system, accompanied by such hybrid systems, could detect a driver's intention to brake 130 milliseconds faster than a normal brake response. Although this doesn't sound like much, the researchers say this amounts to a reduction in braking distance of 3.66 m (12 ft) when driving at 100 km/h (62 mph). That distance, which is the length of a compact car, could be the difference between avoiding or being involved in an accident.

"Averaged over all potential detection thresholds, a system that uses all available sensors detects emergency situations 130 milliseconds earlier than a system that doesn't use EEG and EMG. We can safely say that it is mainly EEG that leads to the early detection," said lead author of the study Stefan Haufe. "We are now considering to test the system online in a real car, however, if such a technology would ever enter a commercial product, it would certainly be used to complement other assistive technology to avoid the consequences of false alarms that could be both annoying and dangerous."

The Berlin Institute for Technology team's study appears in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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5 Comments

I hope they don't introduce this system to read women's minds! (;>)

But seriously...while the concept and theory no doubt is very sound, how many people would have their heads and legs 'wired up' every time they set out on a journey?

Even if they managed some kind of remote sensing, presumably the 'brain waves' would need to be transmitted/amplified by a device that has to be worn. Can anyone imagine us all driving round in little skull cops with a special stocking on one leg?

Interesting stuff but I think we can wait for another century before this one yields any real benefits.

Alien
28th July, 2011 @ 09:56 pm PDT

I AM ABOUT TO SCREAM!!

Just exactly how much money are we willing to spend on technology that will compensate for "drivers" who never learned to drive in the first place?

Wouldn't it be far better to design ultra high-tech driving simulators that would thoroughly teach people how to drive?

There has to be limit to how far we'll lower our standards just to sell cars and car insurance.

bramachari
29th July, 2011 @ 08:03 am PDT

How about just getting drivers to put down the cellphone, coffee, donut or whatever else is distracting them?

Guy Clements
29th July, 2011 @ 08:39 am PDT

bramachari and Guy Clements, I could not agree more, have you seen the videos of the Volvo s60 fails? get ready for the lawsuits, car hit ped, Volvo sued, car stopped on rr tracks car hit by train, Volvo sued, it will become Volvos fault not the MORON behind the wheel who should not be there in the first place

Bill Bennett
29th July, 2011 @ 07:06 pm PDT

This would increase the likelihood of the car getting rear-ended everytime it misread the driver's mind.

In anycase, cars makers adopt new technology very slowly for fear of lawsuits. They are even afraid to replace the outside mirrors with cameras to reduce wind drag and improve appearance. Mind reading device like this probably won't be adopted in the next 100 years.

MrGadget
30th July, 2011 @ 08:04 am PDT
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