MOTOR Magazine

A MOTOR Magazine Newsletter
February 8, 2018

Contributed by Bob Chabot
“Connected Cars” Take On a Whole New Meaning

New Nissan technology lets cars learn from drivers

Self-driving cars are already being test-driven on our roads, a clear sign that the traditional driving experience is on the cusp of change. While most automakers and technology companies are spending billions of dollars to perfect the fully autonomous driving without thinking, many drivers may be reluctant to give up control of their vehicles to artificial intelligence and the other technologies involved.

Nissan Motor Co., however, is taking a different tack, which it unveiled last month at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, by offering a middle ground between traditional driving and fully automated vehicles. Known as Brain-to-Vehicle (B2V), the new technology decodes your brain waves and incorporates your intended movements sooner to make hands-on driving safer, more enjoyable and interactive.

“B2V technology is the latest development in Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility Portfolio,” stated Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci. “It will enable vehicles to interpret signals from the driver’s brain and redefine how people interact with their vehicles.”

“B2V technology could pave the way for a more personalized take on the driverless car,” he added. “When most people think about autonomous driving, they have a very impersonal vision of the future, where humans relinquish control to the machines. But B2V technology does the opposite, by using signals from their own brain to make the drive even more exciting and enjoyable. In particular, B2V technology promises to speed up reaction times for drivers and will lead to cars that keep adapting to make driving safer and more enjoyable.”

“B2V technology will enable quicker responses that should be imperceptible to drivers,” noted Nissan B2V Research Leader Dr. Lucian Gheorghe, who uses the B2V system daily while commuting to work. “Look for the skull cap to be replaced with miniature sensors as the technology evolves.” (All images — Nissan Motor Co.)

After Measuring Brainwave Activity, B2V Analyzes Data with Algorithms
Nissan’s innovation is focused on the vehicle’s interior, its driver and other occupants, a different “connection,’ if you will, from the externally focused connection to the transportation infrastructure and other vehicles on roadways. “Nissan imagines a future where manual driving is still a value of society,” said Dr. Lucian Gheorghe, senior innovation researcher and team lead for B2V Research at the Nissan Research Center, located in Atsugi, Japan. “Driving pleasure is something as humans we should not lose.”

“The breakthrough is the result of Nissan’s ongoing research into using brain decoding technology to predict a driver’s actions and detect discomfort,” Gheorghe added. “Besides predicting drivers’ movements, the skullcap also could detect their preferences and discomfort whether the vehicle is in autonomous mode or not, prompting systems to adjust accordingly.”

“For example, by catching signs that the driver’s brain is about to initiate a movement (such as turning the steering wheel or pushing the accelerator pedal), driver assist technologies can predict and begin the action more quickly,” he continued. “This can improve reaction times and enhance manual driving. In addition, by detecting and evaluating driver discomfort, the vehicle’s built-in artificial intelligence can change the driving configuration or driving style, even when in autonomous mode.”

“Our research will be a catalyst for more innovation and other applications inside vehicles in the years to come,” he noted. “Future Nissan B2V-enabled vehicles will be able to detect discomfort, for instance, with the use of a headgear. In such a case, the car when cruising in autonomous mode will activate its built-in artificial intelligence and adjust the vehicle's driving style. When stress is detected, the vehicle can manipulate the internal ambiance to induce a relaxing mood, while keeping occupants safe and comfortable. Alternately, using augmented reality to adjust what the driver sees and feels can help create a more pleasing driving environment. Another is speeding up evasive maneuvers in the event of an imminent crash.”

“Nissan unveiled research that will enable vehicles to interpret signals from the driver’s brain, redefining how people interact with their cars. (Video — Nissan)

B2V Promises to Deliver More Autonomy, Electrification and Connectivity
“The B2V prototype system requires a driver to wear a skullcap that measures brain-wave activity and transmits its readings to steering, acceleration and braking systems that can start responding before the driver initiates the action,” Gheorghe explained. “The driver still turns the wheel or hits the gas pedal, but the car anticipates those movements and begins the actions 0.2 seconds to 0.5 seconds sooner — a gap that although imperceptible to drivers can make a difference in real time situations.”

But he was adamant that the skullcap isn’t reading a driver’s mind. “It’s about anticipating intended movement — detecting and then decoding brain activity that can occur about two seconds before a voluntary physical movement can be initiated. Before you can move your body, the vehicle’s sensors and systems know you’re going to move, so they begin to react sooner than the driver can physically.”

“Whether manual or autonomous driving, Nissan isn’t building boxes in which you are sleeping or uninvolved,” Gheorghe said. “It’s about building positive-experience automobiles with smart navigating features to deliver a better riding experience that will apply to both drivers and passengers.

Nissan’s B2V project is a collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Canada-based National Institute of Scientific Research and Spanish-based Bitbrain. Each is a developer of bio- and neuro-sensor technologies, focused on wellness and emotional impact measurement through the collection and processing of raw neurological data. The partners agree the matter of how safe these brain-controlled interfaces will be when it comes to driving en masse remains to be seen. In addition, will it be safer than fully autonomous technologies?

While B2V technology is by no means ready for series production vehicles, Schillaci and Gheorghe said it’s an enhancement that, whether in a semi- or fully-autonomous environment, may preserve a distinctly human role in the driving experience. When the technology will be implemented in vehicles hasn’t been set, but Schillaci suggested a time frame of five to 10 years was reasonable.

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