The Future is Here: The “Attention Powered” Car

attention_powered_CarDriver inattention, tunnel vision, and distraction are all major causes of road accidents. And while the law has certainly attempted to remedy this situation by imposing penalties against driving while on the phone, or driving and texting, the problem remains a statistically relevant one. Luckily, Emotiv and the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia have joined forces to come up with a brilliant – albeit slightly unusual – solution.

It’s known as the “Attention Powered Car”, an automobile that features a neuroheadset made by Emotiv, creator of a range of electroencephalography-based monitoring gear. Basically, the driver straps on the headset while driving and  then interfaces with custom software to read the driver’s brainwaves. Any lapses in concentration are read by the headset and cause the vehicle to slow down to about 14 km/h (9 mph) as a way of alerting the driver.

emotiv_epocIn fact, the car – a Hyundai i40 – will only run at full capacity when it senses that drivers are giving their full attention to the task at hand. According to Pat Walker, RAC executive general manager:

The impact of inattention is now comparable to the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by speed and drink driving, which are all contributors to Western Australia consistently having the worst fatality rate of any Australian state. Nationally, it is estimated inattention was a factor in 46 percent of fatal crashes.

The prototype design is largely meant to bring attention to the issue of driver distraction, and also serve as a tool for investigating the problem further. Researchers have been using the car (on a track) to test how various tasks, such as switching radio stations or sending a text message, impact a driver’s attention. Factors measured include blink rate and duration, eye movement, and head tilts.

googlecarAnd while novel and pure science fiction gold, the concept is also quite due. Given the improvements made in EEG headsets in recent years, as well as computerized vehicles, it was really just a matter of time before someone realized the potential for combining the technologies to create a safer drive that still relied on a human operator.

While robot cars may be just around the corner, I imagine most people would prefer to still be in control of their vehicle. Allowing for a neuroband-operated vehicle may be just the thing to marry increased safety while avoiding the specter of a future dystopian cliche where robots handle our every need.

RAC WA has also produced a number of videos about the Attention Powered Car, including the one below. To check out others, simply click on this link and prepare to be impressed.


Sources: news.cnet.com, staging.forthebetter.com.au

The Future is Here: The Insight Neuroheadset

Emotiv_insightPortable EEG devices have come a long way in recent years. From their humble beginnings as large, wire-studded contraptions that cost upwards of $10,000, they have now reached the point where they are small, portable, and affordable. What’s more, they are capable of not only reading brainwaves and interpreting brain activity, but turning that activity into real-time commands and controls.

Once such device is the Emotiv Insight, a neuroheadset that is being created with the help of a Kickstarter campaign and is now available for preorder. Designed by the same company that produced the EPOC, an earlier brain-computer interface (BCI) that was released in 2010, the Insight offers many improvements. Unlike its bulky predecessor, the new model is sleeker, lighter, uses five sensors instead of the EPOC’s fourteen and can be linked to your smartphone.

Emotiv_insight_EPOCIn addition, the Insight uses a new type of hydrophilic polymer sensor that absorbs moisture from the environment. Whereas the EPOC’s sensors required that the user first apply saline solution to their scalp, no extra applied moisture is necessary with this latest model. This is a boon for people who plan on using it repeatedly and don’t want to moisten their head with goo every time to do it.

The purpose behind the Insight and EPOC headsets is quite simple. According to Tan Le, the founder of Emotiv, the company’s long term aim is to take a clinical system (the EEG) from the lab into the real world and to democratize brain research. As already noted, older EEG machines were prohibitively expensive for smaller labs and amateur scientists and made it difficult to conduct brain research. Le and his colleagues hope to change that.

emotiv_insight1And it seems that they are destined to get their way. Coupled with similar devices from companies like Neurosky, the stage seems set for an age when brain monitoring and brain-computer interface research is something that is truly affordable – costing just a few hundred dollars instead of $10,000 – and allowing independent labs and skunkworks to contribute their own ideas and research to the fore.

As of September 16th, when the Kickstarter campaign officially closed, Emotiv surpassed its $1 million goal and raised a total of $1,643,117 for their device. Because of this, the company plans to upgrade the headset with a six-axis intertial sensor – to keep track of the user’s head movements, gait, tremor, gestures, etc. – a microSD card reader for added security, and a 3-axis magnetometer (i.e. a compass).

woman-robotic-arm_650x366In some cases, these new brain-to computer interfaces are making it possible for people with disabilities or debilitating illnesses to control robots and prosthetics that assist them with their activities, rehab therapy, or restore mobility. On a larger front, they are also being adapted for commercial use – gaming and interfacing with personal computers and devices – as well as potential medical science applications such as neurotherapy, neuromonitoring, and neurofeedback.

Much like a fitness tracker, these devices could let us know how we are sleeping, monitor our emotional state over time, and make recommendations based on comparative analyses. So in addition to their being a viable growth market in aiding people with disabilities, there is also the very real possibility that neuroheadsets will give people a new and exciting way to interface with their machinery and keep “mental records”.

Passwords are likely to replace passthoughts, people will be able to identify themselves with brain-activity records, and remote control will take on a whole new meaning! In addition, mental records could become part of our regular medical records and could even be called upon to be used as evidence when trying to demonstrate mental fitness or insanity at trials. Dick Wolf, call me already! I’m practically giving these ideas away!

And be sure to enjoy this video from Emotiv’s Kickstarter site:


Sources: fastcoexist.com, kickstarter.com