No hands? No problem—soon you’ll be able to control a vehicle with your mind.
“What we are preparing is a vehicle that is ready for brain connectivity,” said Lucian Gheorghe, Nissan’s senior innovation researcher, in a video published January 3 ahead of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
The Japanese automaker calls it brain-to-vehicle (B2V) technology.
“Nissan is the very first manufacturer that is bringing real-time brain activity in vehicles as a means of enhancing driving pleasure and the experience in autonomous-driving vehicles,” said Gheorghe.
He explained that the company is using “specific measuring devices” and algorithms to understand brain signals, then feeding that information back into its autonomous vehicles (AVs). The technology is being developed at the Nissan Research Center in Atsugi, Japan, about 30 miles south of Tokyo, and is part of the company’s Intelligent Mobility—an innovation stream that envisions the future of driving.
Most automakers are in an arms race to develop AVs that take drivers and their fallible driving skills out of the equation, so it might seem counterintuitive to make a self-driving car that relies heavily on human brain activity. But if the forum Nissan will be showcasing this technology—CES—is any indication, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Many of the technologies unveiled at CES are often long-term projects and moonshots.
Still, it’s not that far removed from possibility. Brain-computer interfaces are becoming more common across a number of high-tech fields, including robotics, prosthetics, and experimental medicine. The video on YouTube shows brain-monitoring devices strapped to people’s heads while they do driving simulations. Gheorghe lurks behind the test subjects holding a tablet computer that can “see” into their brains. He then explains the technology is “decoding” the motor cortex—the part of the frontal lobe responsible for planning, controlling, and executing voluntary movements—in real time.
Gheorghe said the technology will synchronize a car to its human driver’s actions so that they’ll always feel in control of the vehicle. Nissan also claimed the system will allow a passive driver to take over control of an AV within 300 milliseconds (one-third of a second) if a road event deviates from the norm.
In a press release, Nissan further explained that among the safety features of the B2V system will be its ability to to anticipate intended movement, allowing it to react faster than a human can.
“When most people think about autonomous driving, they have a very impersonal vision of the future, where humans relinquish control to the machines. Yet B2V technology does the opposite, by using signals from their own brain to make the drive even more exciting and enjoyable,” said Daniele Schillaci, Nissan’s executive vice-president, in the release.
The company did not immediately respond to an email asking when, exactly, this system is projected to hit the market.
It’s also not exactly clear why Nissan has chosen to tap into the human brain to steer so-called “autonomous” vehicles, other than to merely keep on top of evolving high-tech trends. Gheorghe alluded to a hyperconnected, highly autonomous future “when such brain-measuring devices may be part of our daily life.”
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