Japanese-headquartered motor globocorp Toyota says it has achieved and tested working "driver brain wave control". So far, however, it envisages the handsfree driving tech being used only in wheelchairs, rather than its roadworthy vehicles.
According to Toyota, their Brain Machine Interface (BMI) kit is better than others' because it works in near-real time, responding to the user's controlling thoughts in 125 milliseconds rather than the several seconds typical for such kit.
"Such systems allow elderly or handicapped people to interact with the world through signals from their brains, without having to give voice commands," says the company, adding:
Brain-wave analysis results are displayed on a panel so quickly that drivers do not sense any delay. The system has the capacity to adjust itself to the characteristics of each individual driver, and thereby is able to improve the efficiency with which it senses the driver's commands. Thus the driver is able to get the system to learn his/her commands (forward/right/left) quickly and efficiently. The new system has succeeded in having drivers correctly give commands to their wheelchairs. An accuracy rate of 95% was achieved, one of the highest in the world.
Plans are underway to utilize this technology in a wide range of applications centered on medicine and nursing care management.
Many Japanese companies and government-funded research bureaux are working on technologies which would reduce the manpower burden of caring for the elderly. Falling birth rates and very low immigration are set to grey-up the land of the rising sun to a level uncommon even among the world's rich industrialised societies, and Toyota's brain-controlled wheelchair is just one of the proposals on offer to help the sick and elderly get by with less help from the workforce.
Other examples trialled recently include powered exoskeletons and walker rigs, though none of these things are yet on the market. ®