Jaguar taps into brain waves to ensure driver attention
The British traditional company has revealed a range of new road safety technology research projects that are being developed to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers who are stressed, distracted and not concentrating on the road ahead. In its ‘Sixth Sense’ research project, the carmaker utilises advanced technology, from sports, medicine and aerospace to monitor the driver’s heart rate, respiration and levels of brain activity to identify driver stress, fatigue and lack of concentration. The researchers are also looking at innovations that would reduce the amount of time the driver’s eyes are off the road whilst driving, and how to communicate with the driver via pulses and vibrations through the accelerator pedal.
According to JLR Director of Research and Technology Wolfgang Epple, a key piece of the research is to find ways to measure brainwaves to monitor if the driver is alert and concentrating on driving. ”Even if the eyes are on the road, a lack of concentration or a daydream will mean the driver isn’t paying attention to the driving task”, Epple said. “They may miss a warning icon or sound, or be less aware of other road users so we are looking at how we could identify this and prevent it causing an accident."
The basis of the Mind Sense project is to see if a car could effectively read the brainwaves that indicate a driver is beginning to daydream, or feeling sleepy, whilst driving. The human brain continually generates four or more distinct brainwaves at different frequencies. By continually monitoring which type of brainwave is dominant, an on-board computer could potentially assess whether a driver is focused, daydreaming, sleepy, or distracted.
If brain activity indicates a daydream or poor concentration, then the steering wheel or pedals could vibrate to raise the driver’s awareness and re-engage them with driving. If Mind Sense does not detect a surge in brain activity following the car displaying a warning icon or sound, then it could display it again, or communicate with the driver in a different way, to ensure the driver is made aware of a potential hazard.
The most common method for monitoring brainwaves is close to the source using sensors attached to a headband, something that would be impractical in a vehicle. For this reason, the company is investigating a method used by the NASA to develop a pilot’s concentration skills and also by the US bobsleigh team to enhance concentration and focus. This detects brainwaves through the hands via sensors embedded in the steering wheel. Because the sensing is taking place further away from the driver’s head, software is used to amplify the signal and filter out the pure brainwave from any background ‘noise’. Currently the research team is conducting user trials to collect more information on the different brainwaves identified through the steering wheel sensors and will involve leading neuroscientists in the project to verify the results.
In the same context the company is assessing how a vehicle could monitor the well-being of the driver using a medical-grade sensor embedded in the seat of a Jaguar XJ. The sensor, originally developed for use in hospitals, has been adapted for in-car use and detects vibrations from the driver’s heartbeat and breathing. "As we develop more autonomous driving technologies, there will be instances when the autonomous car needs to hand control back to the driver," added Epple. "To do this safely the car will need to know if the driver is alert and well enough to take over. So our research team is looking at the potential for a range of driver monitoring technologies to give the car enough information to support this decision. If the car detects severe health issues or a lack of alertness, the car could take steps to ensure the driver is focussed enough on the driving task to take over."
The company also said it is working on new technologies that increase the speed and efficiency of the interaction between the driver and the infotainment screen. The aim is to reduce driver distraction by minimising the amount of time the driver’s eyes are on the screen. A prototype device called Predictive Infotainment Screen uses cameras embedded in the car to track the driver’s hand movements. This enables the system to predict which button the driver intends to press, allowing successful button selection to take place in mid-air: The driver thus can activate or control electronic functions without actually touching the screen itself. In user trials. JLR has found that this increases the speed of button selection by 22 per cent and therefore reduces the amount of time the driver is looking at the screen with their eyes off the road.
As if these would not be enough futuristic features, JLR also is developing mid-air haptic feedback to the driver if the button has been selected successfully. The technology uses ultrasonics to create a touch sensation in mid-air without the skin needing to be in contact with any surface. The sensations could include a ‘tap’ on your finger or a ‘tingling’ on the user’s fingertips. As touch provides an immediate response to the brain, there will be no need for the driver to glance at the screen for visual confirmation which would help keep their gaze on the road ahead.
Haptics could also be used to communicate with the driver through the accelerator pedal to increase the speed of response and to ensure the correct action is taken. To create these sensations in the accelerator pedal, an actuator sits at the top of the pedal arm and allows for vibrations or pulses to be passed through to the foot of the driver. The technology also uses a torque motor which can create resistance in the pedal feel. This resistance could be used to notify the driver that they are pushing the accelerator through a speed limit. Alternatively, if you were crawling along in traffic a timely warning through the accelerator could prevent you bumping into the car in front.