They Said It Couldn't Be Built: The World's First Attention-Powered Car

September 27, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, we told you about a prototype device developed in Japan that can scan a driver's brainwaves, deterring theft and ensuring that the driver is awake and sober.

According to Cnet, electronics company Emotiv and the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia have now announced something just as remarkable: a car that only runs only when the driver is paying attention to the road.

The set-up is fairly straightforward: researchers rigged up an Emotiv electroencephalography headset to a specially tricked-out Hyundai i40. According to the RAC:

[T]he headset has 14 sensors detecting electrical activity from the frontal, temple, parietal and perceptual areas of the brain. The amount of activity in these areas, tells us if you’re actually cognitively processing something, and what, or zoning out. But more importantly, it can tell if you’re task switching, which means your [sic] paying attention, just not to driving.

If the driver is paying attention, the car operates as normal. If the driver slacks off -- because of distractions, boredom, or some other factor -- the car slows down to 15 km (9.3 miles) per hour. When the driver regains focus, the car regains speed.

Neither Emotiv nor the RAC envision this device as anything that would roll out to the general public -- at least not in its current form. It's more a means of bringing attention to the problem of, well, inattention.

That's a serious problem everywhere, but especially in Western Australia. According to the RAC, inattention is a major factor in traffic fatalities throughout the country. While cell phones, radios, and other devices play a part, fatalities also occur simply because drivers zone out. In fact, "20% of Australian drivers involved in crashes, actually admit to be staring straight at the thing they had the accident with, but fail to notice its significance until it’s too late". In other words, drivers are looking, but not seeing.

For more information about the attention-powered car, check out the clip above (in which the Hyundai is disguised for some reason), or visit


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