The race to develop autonomous driving technology may be the rage in the industry these days, but the research team at Nankai University in Tianjin, China has taken a different approach altogether. Who needs autonomous driving when you can bring mind-controlled vehicles to reality.

The group of researchers, in cooperation with Chinese car maker Great Wall Motor, have spent the last two years developing this technology, and it’s come to a point where enough progress has been made that the mind-controlled car can now drive in a straight line. That might not sound as impressive as the advancements made in autonomous driving technology, but the mere suggestion that cars can be controlled by the human brain and to have such a car move in a straight line because of it, is incredibly impressive.

The people behind the project are determined to raise awareness about the technology as much as they can. Right now, the mind-control aspect of the technology works when a driver wears brain signal-reading equipment on his head. According to Zhang Zhao, a member of the research team, the headgear is made up of 16 sensors that are able to capture electroencephalogram (EEG) signals from the driver’s brain. These signals are then sent to a proprietary computer program that selects the relevant signals and translates them into the car’s computer. The computer then processes these signals and translates them into the control command of the car, enabling it to do a variety of functions, including go forward, backward, or come to a complete standstill.

Concerns surrounding it’s safety in real-world applications are understandable, although Associate Professor Duan Feng, the project leader from the university’s College of Computer and Control Engineering, said that the tech won’t function unless a driver is concentrated on changing the car’s moving status.

Duan also expressed confidence that the system will be able to serve its purpose of improving driving conditions, especially for people with disabilities. Just as important is his belief that the tech could also advance to the point where it can work hand-in-hand with autonomous driving technology to create a revolutionary driving experience.

All that said, the technology is still in its infancy stage and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to round it into shape. Duan himself doesn’t see the tech being ready for real-world use in the near future.

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Why it matters

I sometimes find myself wondering what the auto industry will look like in the future. Granted, my past expectations have not exactly lived up to the hype, but with all these advancements being made these days, is this really the time wherein we finally begin to see some revolutionary changes in the industry?

First of all, automakers are really serious about pursuing autonomous driving technology. If the day comes that the tech can be used in real-world driving situations, that would be a huge game-changer in the business. Think about it: a car that can drive by itself. That’s next level stuff right there.

Now, there’s a group of researchers that are making strides in developing a technology that allows cars to be driven by the brain? It’s really hard to believe that we’ve come to this point, especially if you’re skeptical about the practicality of such a technology. I think left in the next corner and the car automatically does that for me? It seems implausible to me, but some people are already developing the technology as I write this.

I’ve learned never to underestimate the brilliant minds that work in this industry. Even though the promise of “flying cars” hasn’t been fulfilled yet, the way technology is evolving these days, it’s really making me wonder if such a future is coming sooner than we all think.

Personally, I want to see how this mind-controlling technology evolves from where it is now. It could amount to nothing in the long run, or it could, just like autonomous driving, reshape the entire industry as we know it. After all, sometimes, the fun is in opening the present, not in what you see inside.

Source: Reuters

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