July 30, 2011

Controlling Brain Waves Makes For Better Driving

According to new research, controlling brain wave signals can cut braking distances and help drivers avoid car crashes.

Researchers at the Berlin Institute for Technology attached electrodes to the scalps of volunteers inside a driving simulator and helped drivers cut over 10-feet off stopping distances.

The team's next goal is to check the system in a series of road tests.

The volunteers were asked to keep 66-feet behind the simulated car in front, which braked sharply at random intervals.

Scientists used electroencephalography (EEG) to analyze the drivers' brain signals.

The system was able to pinpoint the intention to brake 13 hundredths of a second before the driver reacted.

The team found that at a speed of 65mph, the braking distance was reduced by 12-feet.

Lead investigator Benjamin Blankertz told BBC: "It's quite easily explained by the fact that we can tap the driver's intention at the source of the build up of intention in the brain.

"It's a longer process, from the very first upcoming cognitive processes and intention building, until finally the muscles start the movement."

The volunteers also had the muscle tension in their lower legs analyzed to help when the participants would use the accelerator or push the brake.

This data enabled scientists to analyze the EEG information to determine which parts of the brain are key to braking. 

According to the Institute of Physics, this is the first time that EEG has been used to help assist in braking.

However, the technique is already used to help paralyzed people control computers, prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs.

The researchers are planning to conduct road trials of their system to test its viability.

Lead author of the study Stefan Haufe said, "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.

"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 study was published in IOP Publishing's Journal of Neural Engineering.


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