Scientists may soon give your braking leg a break. In a recent study in the Journal of Neural Engineering, researchers at the Berlin Institute of Technology monitored the brain signals of drivers and found that they could detect the study participants’ intent to stop before they actually stomped on the brakes. The findings could someday lead to automated braking technologies that help avoid devastating car crashes.
In the study, the researchers had 18 participants drive along virtual roads in a racing simulator that includes winding streets and oncoming traffic—the drivers had to maintain a certain distance behind the computer-controlled cars in front of them, which braked at random intervals. While the participants drove, the researchers tracked their brain signals using caps fitted with EEG sensors.
Driving a car using only one’s thoughts is no longer the stuff of science fiction. It may not be ready for commercial use, but scientists have successfully completed a road test of the world’s first mind-controlled car.
Created by researchers at the AutoNOMOS labs of Freie Universität Berlin, the technology uses commercially available electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors to detect four different patterns of brain activity, which a computer translates to “turn left,” “turn right,” “accelerate,” and “brake.” The road to this achievement was long, as AutoNOMOS says on its website:
Doing good is getting easier. Soon, you’ll be able to do your civic duty of reporting potholes without even lifting a finger. The city of Boston is working on a smartphone app that would automatically report potholes to authorities–making it easier to find and fill the more than 19,000 potholes Boston grapples with each year.
The in-development Street Bump app uses a smartphone’s GPS and accelerometer technology to register the moment when a car lurches into a pothole and to identify the location. No need for the driver to call or email city officials, the app just goes ahead and sends the message on its own.
The Microsoft folks are trying to improve their online maps using the cabbies’ deep knowledge of Beijing. The problem with typical maps and the directions they offer is that the shortest route isn’t always the fastest route. In big cities, cabbies know which side streets offer shortcuts, and what areas of the city to avoid at which times.
The researchers are trying to rake that data out of the cabbies’ habits by analyzing the GPS data from over 33,000 taxis in Beijing. The group at Microsoft Research Asia, led by Yu Zheng, developed an approach (called T-drive) to analyze and merge this cabbie data with satellite maps to improve the mapping experience and offer faster directions–even if the driver doesn’t engage in the lane swerving, honking, and pedestrian slaloming that give cabbies an edge. As Technology Review reports:
According to the Microsoft researchers, the routes suggested by T-Drive are faster than 60 percent of the routes suggested by Google and Bing maps (which provide essentially the same driving time estimates as each other). Overall, T-Drive can shave about 16 percent off the time of a trip, the researchers say, which translates into about 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of driving.
This approach could work just as well in other dense, cabbie-infested cities. The team is also working on projects that will incorporate real-time accident and traffic data into these “smart” maps.
Technology Review reports that other companies trying to improve maps and directions are taking data from driver’s cell phones in California and Boston, while a person-to-person route sharing application called WAZE allows you to share tips with your social network.
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Image: Flicrk/Boris van Hoytema
If your car could talk, it might tell you to stop texting. At least that’s what one research team hopes: after paying young drivers to perform texting-like games while driving a simulator, they found that visual warnings from an in-car “coach” helped keep drivers’ eyes on the road.
For high-risk drivers, the warning system “more than doubled their time until a virtual crash,” a University of Washington press release says. That might not sound entirely reassuring. But the researchers say a similar system installed on a real car might help risky drivers avoid a crash altogether.
A team led by Linda Ng Boyle, an industrial and systems engineer at the University of Washington, first had a group of 53 drivers, ages 18 to 21, attempt to drive a simulator while simultaneously playing a matching game. As an incentive to take the game seriously, they paid drivers according to the correct number of matches they made. The riskiest drivers took their eyes off the road for between two and a half to three seconds, compared to moderate and low-risk drivers who would glance off the road for less than two seconds during their longest glances.
How much time and energy is wasted as drivers circle around blocks and creep down streets, on the prowl for open parking spots? Burning fuel, they simmer silently in their seats, running late for work and appointments. Thankfully, technology has some solutions to ease the pain of finding parking.
Engineers Marco Gruteser and Wade Trappe of Rutgers University have combined ultrasonic sensors, GPS receivers, and cellular data networks to create a handy and ultra-cheap “parking-spot finder.” Their system distributes the task of finding vacant parking spots to sensors placed on a number of roving vehicles, and then combines the info to make a map of all the available parking in a region. That map could theoretically be accessed through smart phones or dashboard navigation devices.
The thoughts can occur to all of us when we slip behind the wheel of a car: That guy in the other lane is crazy, the old lady up ahead is driving dangerously slow, and seriously, how long is it taking that guy to make that turn? Apparently, we’re all kept warm in our cars by our smugness.
When researchers from Ottawa University polled nearly 400 drivers, ranging from driver’s license newbies to the very old, they found that all of them rated themselves favorably compared to other drivers. In other words, everyone thinks they’re above average.