A newly developed car in Germany is operated and steered completely by mind control, and according to its driver, Henrik Matzke, it is fiendishly difficult. Matzke drives the vehicle with his hands in his lap and brain sensors attached to his head. The car steers, accelerates, and brakes all through its driver’s will. He reached speeds of up to 31 mph.
Matzke is a member of the Free University of Berlin who are working on the “Brain Driver.” The project is working on researching mind control technologies that read and interpret brain signals, and ultimately want to bring their developments to people’s homes and cars. The original goal for Brain Driver was to build a system that would enable an individual with a physical disability to navigate the real world more freely. The basic concept of the project is to allow a car to be operated by the driver thinking “right,” “left,” and “forward.”
Adalberto Llarena, a roboticist with the project, said that the process of turning brain signals into meaningful commands that a machine can use is very complicated. He continued to describe that it becomes even more difficult when trying to develop hardware that is supposed to be retail friendly. The mind control device involves 16 sensors that monitor electric signals in the brain. Clinical devices utilize 32 sensors, but the Brain Driver team wants to create a utility that is as unobtrusive as possible.
The newly develop car has to balance human friendliness with mind control effectiveness. Llarena suggested that their team needs to get creative if sensors transmit too weak of signals for the car. After reading the brain signals through the skull, the device must transfer them to commands for the car, or wheelchair. The driver must think of one distinct command, such as: “right,” “left,” “forward,” or “stop.” Matzke realized that it was not that simple. His mind would wander and making distinct thoughts was difficult under the circumstances. He mastered the mind control by imagining a red cube. If he wanted to move right, he would imagine the cube moving right, and so on with the rest of the commands.
Matzke was one of the only members on the team who could operate the vehicle successfully. He said that training your brain to make signals that the technology can read is very difficult. He admitted that he was only 70 percent confident while operating the newly developed car with mind control. The team leader stated that total concentration and relaxation are critical when behind the wheel. He argued against the process feeling weird, citing that it is not that much weirder than a car driving itself.
There are limitations with the technology. The commands are in binary, so more abstract commands like: “slight left” or “slight right” are not possible. The Brain Driver team wants to avoid the problem that mind controlled prosthetic limbs have had with its users abandoning the technology, who cite that it is too difficult to operate. Their next task is to develop safeguard algorithms for when the driver might get scared or confused.
By Andres Loubriel