By most accounts it would seem the self-driving car represents the future of the automotive industry. But Chinese researchers are taking things in a slightly different direction with a vehicle that’s piloted by brain waves.
The car, which is being developed by researchers at Nankai University in the Chinese city of Tianjin, has been in the works for about two years now. Researchers are receiving support from Great Wall Motor, one of China’s largest automotive manufacturers.
According to Zhang Zhao, one of the project’s primary researchers, the system uses a headset that fits over the driver’s head. The headset employs 16 different sensors capable of reading and recording the brain’s electroencephalogram (or EEG) signals. The signals are then sent wirelessly to a computer that’s able to determine which signals are relevant and which are not.
“The core of the whole flow is to process the EEG signals, which is done on the computer,” Zhang said in a recent interview.
The result: drivers can pilot a vehicle without moving a limb – they simply think about the direction they want the car to go. Using the device, drivers can move the car forward, reverse, come to a stop, even lock and unlock the doors.
Of course, there’s still lots of work to be done. Zhang acknowledges that, in its current state, the brain-controlled car can only drive in a straight line, which means researchers need to work on turning and changing lanes. But Zhang says that’s definitely possible and expects such functionality to be available to the system in the near future.
Duan Feng, the project’s leader and an associate professor, says the technology could play a pivotal role in the development of the self-driving car – and vice versa. “Driverless cars’ further development can bring more benefits to us, since we can better realize functions relating to brain controlling with the help of the driverless cars’ platform,” Feng said. “In the end, cars, whether driverless or not, and machines are for serving people.”
While the brain-controlled car technology is undoubtedly exciting and is expected to have a significant impact on the development of autonomous vehicles, for the time being there are no plans to bring it to market.