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Mind-control car headset set to improve safety

A company has created a mind-powered headset designed to improve car safety. Yes, really.

The slightly scary-looking headset developed by Australian neuroengineering company Emotiv can detect when a driver is distracted. When a motorist’s mind begins to wander, the device automatically causes the car to slow down until the driver resumes thinking about the task at hand.

The headset uses 14 data recorders that monitor electrical signals coming from your grey matter. These include six-axis inertial sensors, a three-axis gyroscope and a three-axis accelerometer. This allows it to monitor your blinking, eyeball movement and head position, among other things.

During tests, Emotiv scientists were able to map what the brain gets up to while the user drives normally, daydreams absentmindedly, uses the phone, texts, changes the radio station and various other tasks.

Having analysed the differing signals, the headset can be programmed to identify what, for instance, daydreaming looks like and can act on it accordingly.

The headset is linked to the car’s ECU, so when it detects an electrical signal it recognises as the driver checking out a pedestrian’s bum, it can automatically reduce engine power or trigger the brakes. Which is ironic, because that’s exactly what you’d need when you’re checking out a person’s bum at the roadside.

“The brain is basically an attention machine,” Emotiv Research and Emotiv Lifesciences chief executive officer Geoffrey Mackellar explained. “The front part of the brain has to be active and very much involved in driving because the subconscious brain doesn’t know that driving out of a lane is going to cause a problem.”

“The fact is you cannot do more than one thing at a time usually, you are in fact switching from one to the other. Every time you switch, there’s a cost,” Murdoch University Psychology PhD student Lisa Jefferies added.

Data suggests attention loss is a contributing factor in 46 per cent of crashes and that, in 20 per cent of cases, a driver involved in a crash admits they were staring at the object they hit prior to the event. It’s no wonder, then, the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia has commissioned the project to try and improve driver concentration.

We’re guessing the speed reduction will be subtle, otherwise your lack of concentration could have the knock-on effect of making you more dangerous to nearby road users who may be tailgating you.

Safety aside, the technology has great potential ─ if you can somehow build it into a fashionable hat or something less intrusive.

If you think the technology is a long way off, think again. Emotiv already has a mind-powered handset on the market called the EPOC, which is where a lot of the knowhow comes from for the new headset. It can let you play games hands-free, control an electronic device and even express your thoughts digitally.



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