Ahead of CES in Las Vegas next week, automaker Nissan revealed what it’s been working on at its Atsugi, Japan-based research facility. A car that measures brain waves to help drivers steer their autonomous cars. Really.

In a wild video that hit the internet on Wednesday, Lucian Gheorghe, who’s a Nissan Senior Innovation Researcher, explains in broad terms how this nascent technology works.

“Our systems will be able to tell an autonomous vehicle, the driver will be steering in the next 300 milliseconds,” Gheorghe says. “Then we can use this window in time to enhance the execution synchronizing the support of the AV with your own actions.”

Nissan's brain-reading helmet.

So, in a third of a second, Nissan researchers claim they can measure brain activity that show you want to turn left — or slam the brakes — and the car can assist you in doing just that.

It’s the inverse approach to self-driving vehicle technology that uses AI to make decisions on when a car should turn left or hit the brakes. Nissan’s latest project seems be more about melding the car with the mind of the driver, instead of letting the car do 100 percent of the thinking.

“When most people think about autonomous driving, they have a very impersonal vision of the future, where humans relinquish control to the machines. Yet [brain-to-vehicle] technology does the opposite, by using signals from their own brain to make the drive even more exciting and enjoyable,” said Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci in a statement. “Through Nissan Intelligent Mobility, we are moving people to a better world by delivering more autonomy, more electrification and more connectivity.”

“Nissan is the very first manufacturer that is bringing real-time brain activity in vehicles as a means of enhancing driving pleasure and experience in autonomous driving vehicles,” Gheorghe claims in the video.

The sort of mind-technology interface that Nissan revealed on Wednesday is being adopted by other technology companies, most notably Facebook. The world’s biggest social network dedicated an entire keynote to the project during its F8 conference in April 2017. Regina Dugan, a former DARPA researcher and head of Facebook’s secret projects department Building 8, explained that Facebook was looking into reading brain activity of its users to an experience where touch-free status updates were only the beginning.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink startup also aims to develop technology that can decipher brain activity. Musk sees a world where with neurological diseases or stroke victims can use technology to better communicate. There’s also his idea of neural lace, of course, that could theoretically connect the human brain to internet.

Mind-reading technology has its skeptics, including Noam Chomsky, but continuing research in the field may help people living with ALS and people who need to use robots to communicate.

As the prototype images in the Nissan video show, it’s still very early days for Nissan, but the company also offers a vision of the future where a car can read one’s mind, no head-gear required.

“We are imagining a future where such brain-measuring devices may be part of our daily life,” Gheorghe says. “What we are preparing is a vehicle that is ready for brain connectivity.”

From Nissan:

Nissan will use a driving simulator to demonstrate some elements of the technology at CES, and Gheorghe will be on hand to answer questions. Nissan’s display will be at booth 5431 in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North Hall.


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