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Drivers Who Brake With Their Brains

You might think you have lightning reflexes, but the time between thinking you need to brake and your foot pushing the pedal can be life or death. What if we eliminated the (literal) middle man?

Drivers Who Brake With Their Brains

Ever have one of those moments in the car where you know you should brake, but your foot is a couple seconds behind your brain? If you’re lucky, this just results in a short stop–but if you’re not, it can lead to a crash. If only your car could respond to the thoughts in your head instead of waiting for those thoughts to get all the way to your foot, driving would be a lot safer. Believe it or not, a group of German researchers have already made it happen.

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Researchers from the Berlin Institute for Technology recently used drivers’ brain signals to help with braking–the first time this has been done. According to ScienceDaily, the team first identified the parts of the brain that are most active while braking before asking a group of 18 volunteers outfitted with electrodes attached to their scalps (a technique known as electroencephalography) to drive a car simulated on a screen in front of them. The researchers also examined the subjects’ myoelectric activity (EMG), which senses muscle tension in the lower leg to predict upcoming leg motion.

The drivers were asked to stay within a 65-foot distance of a computerized lead vehicle on a curvy, highly-trafficked road, all while driving approximately 60 miles an hour. At various points, the lead vehicle’s “driver” would slam on the brakes, forcing the test subjects to quickly react. The result: The subjects’ brain waves detected emergencies 130 milliseconds faster than their feet. That doesn’t sound like much, but at that speed, it translates into almost a full car length of braking distance. That could mean the difference between a close call and a horrible crash.

Real-world drivers won’t use their brains to brake anytime soon; researchers are just now thinking about conducting studies on the road. And drivers probably won’t take too well to the idea of strapping on electrodes every time they get in the car. But eventually, the system could save lives–if autonomous vehicle technology doesn’t take over first.

Related Story: A Prius-Inspired Bike Has Mind-Controlled Gear Shifting.

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[Image: Berlin Institute of Technology]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more

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