Chinese Scientists Are Developing A Mind-Controlled Car

December 9, 2015

If you saw Carrie and immediately thought, "Man, telekinesis is cool!", you'll be happy to know that scientists in China have been working on a device that grants similar powers. It can't control fire hoses or skewer annoying gym teachers in the gut, but it does allow users to control a car using just the power of their mind.

Researchers at Nankai University in Tianjin began working on the device two years ago, in partnership with Chinese automaker Great Wall. The current iteration employs 16 sensors that pick up on electroencephalogram signals in the user's brain. The device then feeds those signals through software, which interprets the user's intentions. 

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While the device isn't quite ready for prime time, researchers say that it has been successfully used to allow users sitting in a car's backseat to carry out driving-related tasks. Using only their minds, subjects have been able to unlock and lock a vehicle, move it forward and backward, and bring it to a stop.

Speaking to Reuters, lead researcher Duan Feng said that there are two obvious applications for the technology, both of which would pair it with autonomous driving systems:

1. It could allow the disabled to drive vehicles themselves, offering greater degrees of independence and mobility. The EEG device could read driver's intentions when entering, starting, stopping, and exiting a vehicle, and in setting the car's travel route. The autonomous system would then handle the actual driving, getting from Point A to Point B.

2. It could provide non-disabled drivers with "a new and more intellectualized driving mode". It's not entirely clear what Feng envisions, but as with disabled drivers, the technology could be used to enhance the autonomous driving experience. For example, it might serve as a substitute for hands-free, AI interfaces, which are unfortunately just as distracting as hands-on technology. Thinking about calling your mom could be far simpler and less frustrating than asking Siri to do it for you.

And for those who might be worried that this kind of technology will lead to an increase in distracted driving accidents, Feng says not to worry. Drivers only need to concentrate when they're changing the car's moving status, like shifting lanes or turning. And besides, there aren't any plans to bring it to the market -- yet.

Finally, lest you think this is all a bit of pie-in-the-sky sci-fi, we'll remind you that similar technology was unveiled in Australia in 2013. That could be sheer coincidence, but if we see it a third time, according to the old adage, it's a trend.

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