Drivers’ brain signals could help reduce braking distances

Using drivers’ brain signals to assist braking could result in quicker reaction times and reduced braking distances, according to German researchers.

A team from the Berlin Institute for Technology (BIT) used electro-encephalography (EEG) scalp electrodes accompanied by modern traffic sensors as part of an enhanced braking system.

Lead author of the study Stefan Haufe said: ‘Averaged over all potential detection thresholds, a system that uses all available sensors detects emergency situations 130 milliseconds earlier than a system that doesn’t use EEG.’

Driving at 100km/h, this amounts to reducing the braking distance by 3.66m — the full length of a compact car or the potential margin between causing and avoiding accidents.

The team first identified the parts of the brain that are most active when braking and used a driving simulator to demonstrate the viability of mind-reading assisted driving.

While sitting among conventional driving controls, the study’s 18 participants were asked to drive a car that was displayed on a screen in front of them while a series of electrodes were attached to their scalp to measure brain activity.

They were asked to stay within a 20m distance of a computer-controlled lead vehicle along a road that contained sharp curves and dense oncoming traffic to recreate real driving conditions, while maintaining a speed of 100km/h.

At random intervals, emergency braking situations were triggered by the rapid braking of the lead vehicle in front, accompanied by the flashing of its braking lights.

At this point, when the subjects reacted, the data was collected from the EEG. For comparison, the researchers also recorded information on the time it took to release the gas pedal and press the brake pedal, the deceleration of both vehicles and the distance between the two vehicles.

Using the initial EEG recordings, the researchers were able to determine what parts of the brain are most sensitive in a braking scenario and tweak the detection system accordingly.

‘We are now considering testing the system online in a real car. However, if such a technology would ever enter a commercial product, it would certainly be used to complement other assistive technology to avoid the consequences of false alarms, which could be both annoying and dangerous,’ Haufe said.