German researchers drive a car via brain waves

Drivers will need to stay focused if they are to drive the autonomous car developed by a Berlin university. 

Researchers at the AutoNOMOS innovation labs of Freie Universität Berlin have developed a system making it possible to steer a car with your thoughts. Using new commercially available sensors to measure brain waves - sensors for recording electroencephalograms (EEG) - the researchers were able to distinguish the bioelectrical wave patterns for control commands such as left, right, accelerate or brake in a test subject. 

The researchers first measured brain waves while the test subject thought of the four commands associated with driving and used them to move a virtual cube in different directions on a PC screen. In this way the person trained the computer to link specific bioelectrical wave patterns to commands that could later be used to control the car. 

Then the researchers connected the measuring device with the computer-controlled vehicle, making it possible for the subject to influence the movement of the car just using his or her thoughts. Driving by thought control was tested on the site of the former Berlin Tempelhof Airport.

"In our test runs, a driver equipped with EEG sensors was able to control the car with no problem - there was only a slight delay between the envisaged commands and the response of the car," said Professor Raúl Rojas, who heads the AutoNOMOS project. In a second test version, the car drove largely automatically, but via the EEG sensors the driver was able to determine the direction at intersections.

The AutoNOMOS Project at Freie Universität Berlin is studying the technology for the autonomous vehicles of the future. With the EEG experiments, they investigate hybrid control approaches in which people work with machines. A short film on the brain-steered car is available online.

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