Cars that operate without the explicit control of a driver have generated massive amounts of press in the recent years. Driver-less cars, or the proper term, autonomous cars have actually existed for years before Google or Tesla began to shock the world with their ideas. The first credited autonomous car is actually Leonardo da Vinci’s self-propelled cart, a small cart that operated on the basis of spring energy and any steering would be set before the course. This idea has long evolved past its humble beginnings and for some, has moved past autonomous.
A recent hackathon (basically, a more technology based science fair) at UC Berkeley called CalHacks has spurred some amazing new innovations, including an interesting implication for the future of driving. A team of four calling themselves, “Teslapathic” have fitted a 2015 Tesla Model S 85D to be controlled through brain activity. In 36 hours, the team designed a wooden mechanism attached to an RC radio and actuators on the pedals for acceleration, stopping, and steering.
The radio receives and translates the brain waves through an EEG (Electroencephalography) headset. These are the same devices used by medical professionals to detect anomalies in the brain. Small electronic signals are sent to and from the brain and a computer translates the results. Steering was not controlled exactly the same, but instead used a device that tracked the head movements of the test driver. Looking to the left and right would slowly ease the car in that respective direction. Below is a video showing the car in action and the operator can be seen in the passenger seat of the car.
Autonomous cars are often demonized in the media over any accident or problem, but not many people know that they are actually much safer. This confirmation bias grows from the media influence and is often due to the nature of humans. As we learned from class, human intuition is lousy. And when a new invention comes along that completely flips everything we know about driving upside-down, there are going to be many who oppose change. These autonomous cars use advanced sensors and cameras to detect the environment around. If every car knew when and where the other cars where, accidents would be a thing of the past. This is a very interesting outcome for the future of self-driving cars.
Overall, this is an interesting project, but what does this mean for the car industry as a whole? As of right now, pretty much nothing. Brain driven cars will not take the market any time soon, and self-driving cars still have a long time to go. However, the Teslapathic group have opened up a whole can of interesting ideas for the future of self-driven cars. Without question, the largest cause of motor accidents is human error. What if you could sense an accident coming and react quickly enough with brainwaves? Or what if a driver drifted asleep and the brainwaves alerted the vehicle and shuts off the engine? This are just possibilities for the future of these autonomous cars, with new inventions being worked on daily.
“A Brief History of Autonomous Vehicle Technology.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
Danigelis, Alyssa. “Hackers Turn Tesla Into a Brain-Controlled Car.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 23 Nov. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
Thompson, Cadie. “Why Driverless Cars Will Be Safer than Human Drivers.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 16 Nov. 2016. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.