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Driving a car - with just your mind

Chris Valentine, Tuesday 14 July 2015 | Annotate
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KMi researchers sometimes get to do some pretty strange things and this week project officer Chris Valentine got the chance to be one of the first people in the world to drive a car using just the power of thought.

"Technicians working for insurance comparison website combined the very latest in commercial electroencephalogram (EEG) neuro headsets with the type of remote car control technology you might have seen on TV programmes such as Fifth Gear, and added some clever interpretation software to allow a person to actually drive a car purely using the power of thought.

"Based in a blacked-out movie studio deep in the heart of Hampshire, a short but twisty circuit is projected on the studio floor using lasers. A single forward-facing camera is the only feedback the driver gets that the car is actually following their instructions. And I can tell you - its not easy! Each driver has to train the software first, thinking lefty and righty thoughts that the computer can learn and recognise and relay to the remote systems via a local wireless network. In addition, a forward tilt of the head accelerates the car from standing to a safe five miles per hour; a tilt backwards stops it immediately - a good thing when large concrete blocks are deployed to protect sensitive equipment. A telematic system inside reports on how smoothly - or not - the driver is managing to control the car. The whole system took two months from initial idea to fruition and to their knowledge is a world-first.

"Three people were invited to test the system and report back. Each of us took different amounts of time to train and it was soon obvious the lone female among us was far more suited to the task, getting a peak brain training score of 90% - whereas I could only reach 40% by shutting my eyes - not conducive to driving the car round the course.

The training process was frustrating and I'm afraid I won't able to be consistant in my controlling the car. It's obvious that this technology is leading edge - something we're used to in KMi - but we are a long way off being able to do this sort of thing in the real world. What really is amazing is just how cheap the hardware is - the company's top-of-the-range headset is only $499"

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Chris Valentine

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