ONCE THE stuff of science fiction, technology that allows a car to read a driver’s mind and sense when they are tired or daydreaming could be coming to a showroom near you in the next decade.
A research project under way at Jaguar Land Rover, referred to as “Sixth Sense”, uses technology borrowed from Nasa: tiny sensors are built into a car’s steering wheel, which are said to be able to scan a driver’s brainwaves and detect when they are distracted or daydreaming.
The British car maker calls the system Mind Sense, and says that when certain brainwaves are detected, which indicate drowsiness, the steering wheel, pedals or seat could vibrate to alert the driver.
Although still at a trial stage, and with further consultation required with neuroscientists, the technology is a variation of existing driver monitoring systems already used by mainstream car makers including BMW, Ford, Mercedes, VW and Volvo.
JLR’s proposed solution is the first to monitor brainwaves, rather than detecting when the car’s steering inputs are erratic or the vehicle is wandering out of lane, and may be introduced in the next decade.
How long before it will know when drivers are thinking of stopping for a cheeky Big Mac, and nag them to have a healthy salad instead?
The seat that can sense a stressed driver
Another development of the “Sixth Sense” study is so-called driver wellness monitoring. JLR has fitted the seat of a Jaguar XJ luxury saloon with adapted hospital-grade sensors that can monitor a driver’s heartbeat and breathing patterns.
It’s not new – Harken and Ford have already shown heart rate monitoring technology, which can detect stress and encourage users to take a break.
Driving your car with your smartphone
In the future, though, when drivers want to take a break from having their brainwaves and heartbeat monitored, it will presumably be possible to step out of your car and drive it using a smartphone.
The principle was previewed in the 1997 Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, in which Pierce Brosnan’s Bond escapes the bad guys by driving his BMW 7-series while lying on the back seat using a mobile phone.
Don’t expect it to be like playing Gran Turismo, however. The technology, demonstrated on a Range Rover Sport, is designed to operate at crawling speeds of up to 4mph. It combines radar, Lidar, cameras and ultrasonics to scan the surrounding environment.
The idea is that when driving in particularly difficult off-road terrain, or finding their car in a tight spot because of someone else’s bad parking, the driver can manoeuvre the vehicle from the outside, where they have the best possible view.
Using a smartphone app, it’s possible to operate the vehicle’s steering, brakes and throttle remotely. JLR says that it will enter production by 2020.
Changing the radio station without touching a screen
Wolfgang Epple, director of research and technology at JLR, also revealed how the company is close to introducing gesture recognition to its infotainment system. It has already been beaten to it by BMW, which will offer this as an option on the new 7-series luxury saloon.
It means that a simple range of hand gestures or finger pointing could operate the radio, navigation or phone. Epple says this reduces the time a driver’s eyes are off the road.
Intelligent throttle pedal
So-called haptic feedback could also be used to create an “intelligent” throttle pedal. The idea is that a driver could be alerted by vibrations or resistance when attempting to accelerate beyond the speed limit or too quickly towards a vehicle in front.