It was just over a year ago that BBC reported curious news: Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research was running experiments using driver’s brainwave data. Their goals were ambitious: Could scanning our brains eventually make our cars safer? Fast forward to today and the experiments have progressed from the purview of academics to the popular multinational car manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover.
How Reading Brainwaves Could Make Cars Safer
One of Jaguars’ most recent projects, cleverly dubbed Mind Sense, involves brainwave sensors adapted from tech used to monitor pilots’ concentration at NASA. These sensors would be installed into steering wheels with the aim of detecting a tired or distracted state of mind, signaled by a driver’s brainwaves.
You may remember from science class that the human brain can generate up to 10 watts of electrical power. This electrical activity is displayed in the form of brainwaves that can be divided into four categories, ranging from high-activity Beta waves, associated with a strongly engaged mind—someone telling a story, painting a picture or, ahem, driving a car, for example—to low-activity Delta waves, associated only with sleeping.
Depending on what frequency of brainwaves the sensors detect, Jaguar says a car’s system could potentially determine if a driver is optimally focused, distracted, daydreaming, or is at risk of falling asleep. “If brain activity indicates a daydream or poor concentration, then the steering wheel or pedals could vibrate to raise the driver’s awareness and re-engage them with driving,” said Jaguar’s Director of Research and Technology, Dr. Wolfgang Epple.
And Jaguar doesn’t plan to stop at mind reading. It plans to go beyond brainwaves by testing other biometric sensors that could be embedded in a “wellness seat” to monitor heart rate and respiration. Should a driver suffer from the onset of a sudden illness, say a heart attack, the car could mitigate the potential risk by automatically stabilizing a vehicle. (We hope it will automatically call an ambulance as well.)
Features like these, though not yet installed in any consumer cars, foretell a new world of auto design—one on the imminent horizon, rapidly unfolding.