German researchers from the Free University of Berlin have demonstrated a system that allows a car to be driven by thought control alone. Formed in 2006, the university’s AutoNOMOS team has been researching and developing systems that could result in driverless, autonomous cars. The team has previously been successful using an iPhone, an iPad and an eye-tracking device to maneuver its Volkswagen Passat test car. The team has now demonstrated that the car can be controlled by mind power, using an EPOC neuroheadset, which is a commercially-available brain-machine video gaming interface made by Emotiv Systems.
The lightweight brain computer interface (BCI) EPOC device is worn on the head, but does not restrict movement in any way, as it is wireless. The set detects conscious thoughts, expressions and non-conscious emotions based on electrical signals around the brain. The AutoNOMOS team’s system, known as BrainDriver, acquires bioelectric signals from the driver via 16 EEG sensors on the EPOC neuroheadset. Before getting behind the wheel, drivers first need to spend some time on the system’s software tool kit, where they learn to move a cube back and forth on a computer screen by altering their thought patterns. Once on the road, BrainDriver links these patterns with assigned actuations, such as steering and acceleration, and then sends the appropriate commands to the car’s CAN-BUS drive-by-wire system.
In the first test of the technology, the car drove itself autonomously to an intersection, at which point its human occupant used their thought patterns to tell it which way to turn. In the second test, carried out at Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport, the occupant continuously controlled steering, acceleration and braking. There was said to be, “only a slight delay” between their mental commands and the subsequent reactions of the car. Although the system is currently only a demonstration project, team members believe that it could have definite applications in the future. The AutoNOMOS project is funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research as an initiative within the German High-Tech Strategy.
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