Australia researchers unveil 'attention-powered' car

Sep 25, 2013
The Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia have unveiled the world's first 'attention-powered' car on September 25, 2013

Australian road safety researchers on Wednesday unveiled a pioneering "attention-powered car" which uses a headset to monitor brain activity and slow acceleration during periods of distraction.

The car, commissioned by the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia, is about to depart on an awareness-raising of Western Australia—a sprawling west coast state accounting for about one-third of the Australian continent.

Lead researcher Geoffrey Mackellar, from neuroengineering company Emotiv, said the car's accelerator could be overridden by a headset with 14 sensors measuring the type and amount of which determined whether a driver was distracted.

In the testing phase, drivers were set specific challenges such as using their mobile phone, switching channels on the radio, or reading a map so that researchers could record their brain activity while doing so.

They were also sent on a 15 kilometres per hour " lap" to see what happened when their brains "zoned out"—"pretty nasty but we enjoyed it", Mackellar said.

Emad Tahtouh, from production company FINCH, said the car used an array of neural inputs and specially-designed software to "go when you're and slow when you're not".

"We're looking at things like blink rate, blink duration, gaze rate—how long they look at a point—eyes moving, head tilts, and also frequency of task-switching and the level of brain activity when they flick over to those tasks, so it's a huge pool of data," he said.

"If someone lost attention and they switched tasks to, say, reading their mobile phone, or even if they just zoned out, it would usually be represented by a very sharp dip and sometimes very erratic behaviour."

The car worked by reducing acceleration when it detected a loss of attention, and speeding back up once full focus was back on driving.

The pilot vehicle, a customised Hyundai i40, was built for the RAC as part of a research and publicity campaign to reduce the number of road deaths in the state, which currently run above the national average and are the worst in Australia.

Although the system could have potential commercial applications, the RAC said their current focus was on research and public awareness.

"The impact of inattention is now comparable to the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by speed and drink driving," said RAC chief Pat Walker.

"Nationally, it is estimated inattention was a factor in 46 percent of fatal crashes."

The Australian government estimates that road accidents cost the economy Aus$27 billion (US$25 billion) every year.

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User comments : 6

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1.4 / 5 (10) Sep 25, 2013
Another committee coerced waste of time.

Just like ejection seats for cars about to have a crash under 20Kmh.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2013
A picture of the headset would be interesting. I wonder if you could achieve a substantial part of this monitoring by just remotely tracking where the eyes are focused? Then again, that probably wouldn't work with sunglasses.
1 / 5 (8) Sep 25, 2013
Force all passengers to wear helmets just like motorcycle riders have to.
Insist that the driver of a car must wear a breastplate so that the steering wheel does not go into his sternum.
Mandate leg restraint straps so that the front passenger does not lose their knee-caps under the dash board.
All cars to be designed so that the driver can sleep fully prone when he gets tired on long hot trips.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2013
Then again, that probably wouldn't work with sunglasses.

Most eye tracking systems can handle sunglasses, as the CCD chip in video cameras are sensitive to infrared (which passes through sunglasses, at least the plastic kind, without being attenuated much).

There are already systems that monitor blink frequencies for truck drivers (so called "fatigue management systems").
2 / 5 (8) Sep 26, 2013
And the last 30 minutes of brain activity will be stored in the black box for accident investigators and insurance companies to use after incidents occur.
1 / 5 (4) Sep 26, 2013
A reduction in speed is one thing, but what's to stop the car from veering off the road or sideswiping another car? The impact will no doubt be less though.

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