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Leave the driving to your brain

The day that drivers no longer have to put their hands on the wheel and fiddle with the gas pedal, clutch, and brake is within our reach, thanks to German researchers who have developed a car that drives using brain waves.

The breakthrough comes from artificial intelligence researcher Paul Rojas and colleagues at the Freie Universitat Berlin. As they demonstrate in the video above, their system currently allows drivers to steer a car left and right as well as accelerate and decelerate.

To do this, they use an Emotiv neuroheadset, essentially a helmet with 16 sensors that reads electromagnetic signals produced by the brain. The headset is trained to recognize brain patterns associated with the commands of turn left, turn right, speed up and slow down.

Once trained, the neuroheadset-equipped driver is seated in a car that is already buffed out with video cameras, radar and laser sensors that provide a 3-D view of its surroundings. In one experiment, the driver heads towards an intersection and commands the car to turn right. After a slight delay, it does.

A second experiment performed at an abandoned airport in Berlin tests out the acceleration and deceleration commands, in addition to steering commands, all of which work with a slight delay.

The researchers caution that "this is just a proof of concept. The task here was to show free driving by detecting brain patterns. There is still a long way to go until we can take full control of the machines with our brains."

The team is cheery about the concept's prospects. Such a human-machine interface could, for example, be combined with an autonomous driving system. One example they point out is a telling a cab which way to turn at a crossroads as it drives you home.

More stories on using our brains to control things:

Tip o' the Log to David Teeghman at Discovery News.

John Roach is a contributing writer for Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).