Self-driving cars? How about brain-driven cars?

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.



da Vinci’s self-propelled cart (History-Computer)

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.


Teslapathic member, Casey Spencer, poses in his Tesla

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.


Works Cited

“A Brief History of Autonomous Vehicle Technology.” 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.

3 thoughts on “Self-driving cars? How about brain-driven cars?

  1. Brian A Vargas

    Interesting post, I have had the privilege of driving both the Tesla S P100D, and the X model P100d a few times. They are incredible cars, and with the upgraded package are super fast, first time I was in the passenger seat I was thrown back into my seat when the driver floored it. They are faster then lamborghini’s Aventador, Huracan and ferrari’s 488 GTB and California. As for their self driving abilities, I was a little disappointed. Not saying its not amazing technology, but I think it needs work. On the highway it can drive it self just fine, but on narrow roads with curbs it has trouble detecting the curb as its looking for lines to follow. This leads you having to regain control or it will hit the curb. Luckily they do get updates all the time with improvements, just like your phone would. I could see some of these problems being worse with a car that is brain driven. What would happen if the driver had a medical issue such as a stroke? Definitely cool technology that may be useful in the future or may be adaptable to other products we use.

  2. Mackenzie French

    Wow this is quite a scary thought and idea. I can’t believe those people designed that in 36 hours. Seems unreal. The car future ahead of us is crazy to think about. The amount of things that can be done with technology is so neat to me. I have driven a Tesla and it literally drives for you on the freeway and can sensor cars and will slow down and stop for you. This seems safe, but it also leads to many distractions and people may feel like since they aren’t “driving” they can be texting. Agreed that human intuition is lousy! Check out what the media is predicting for future cars.

  3. vek5025

    I think that this is a very dangerous thing for society and I do not see a benefit to it. Self-driving cars are already dangerous to a degree, but I think having a vehicle move depending on a brain is very unsafe and far-fetched.

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