Jaguar taps into brain waves to ensure driver attention

June 18, 2015 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
In the recent past, Jaguar Land Rover already caught attention with futuristic technology approaches such as using the entire windscreen as head-up display or extensive use of augmented reality. Now the company goes another step further: It considers utilizing brain waves to increase traffic safety by monitoring 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.