The carmaker’s ambitious new project has the potential to boost drivers’ reaction times.
By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor
Nissan has unveiled an ambitious automotive research project that could redefine the future of driving. The company has been looking into how vehicles can interpret electrical signals from a driver’s brain, with the idea of developing faster reaction times and using thought patterns to make driving more enjoyable. Nissan has dubbed its research program “Brain-to-Vehicle,” or B2V, technology. The company says it is the latest development in its Intelligent Mobility vision for transforming how cars are driven, powered, and integrated into society.
B2V tech could have a future car anticipating your driving reactions before you carry them out. For example if you are thinking ‘hit the brakes,” the neuron pattern in your brain would prompt an ADAS interface to apply the brakes immediately, even before your foot has touched the brake pedal. By recognizing and anticipating when a driver is about to brake, accelerate, or perform evasive steering maneuvers Nissan researchers have calculated that a B2V interface could improve driver reaction times by around 0.2 to 0.5 seconds—which could be critical in real-world driving, where split-second decision-making can mean the difference between getting into an accident or avoiding one.
The ability to measure, interpret, and associate specific neurons firing in the brain with a given activity is now possible to a limited degree; it can be used, for example, to control prosthetic limbs. The method used to measure electrical patterns in the brain is called electroencephalography (EEG), and it requires a skullcap festooned with electrodes that press directly against a person’s scalp that can be cumbersome to wear. Nissan researchers admit that the device the company has been using for research needs to be made “smaller and more stable” before it’s reliable enough for practical use.
Dr. Lucian Gheorghe, senior innovation researcher at the Nissan Research Center in Japan, who’s leading the B2V research, explains that other possible uses of B2V include adjusting the vehicle’s internal environment. Gheorghe imagines being able to detect discomfort from a driver, which could lead to changing the way the vehicle drives, or using augmented reality to change what the driver sees to create a more relaxing environment. “This research will be a catalyst for more Nissan innovation inside our vehicles in the years to come,” he says.
B2V also could help safely bridge the gap between semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles. Information gleaned from drivers could be used to make self-driving cars less unsettling for passengers by having the car behave, as much as possible, the way it would with a human driver in charge.
Will this tech even be ready before fully autonomous cars hit the road? The answer seems to be “no.” A Nissan spokesman said the company “is aiming for practical application in 5 to 10 years.” Before that can happen, though, both the sensor device, which is a chock full of wires and sensors, and the software used to interpret brain waves, must be improved.