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Can brain scans help make cars safer?

Image Credit: Jack Stewart/BBC Future
Jul 21 2014

We keep being told the future of transport is autonomous; our vehicles are going to end up driving themselves. But it may be of comfort to driving enthusiasts that computer control has a long way to go, and there are still things that humans do best behind the wheel.

“In the short term at least, there are strengths that humans still bring to the table, and we don’t want to rule them out altogether,” says Stephen Erlien, of Stanford University, in Silicon Valley.

Still, sometimes even the best drivers can get distracted. Could next-generation cars step in to take over the wheel?

To find out more, I went to Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research (Car) to meet neuroscientist Lene Harbott. The plan was to hook me up to an EEG machine that measures electrical activity in my brain, while Erlien took me for a spin in Stanford’s experimental vehicle, the X1. This car, which looks a bit like a moon buggy, was built by students as a testbed for new technology, and is currently being used for automatic hazard avoidance tests.