Since its inception, the auto industry has always been a pioneer of emerging technologies, across manufacturing, production and the customer experience. Today, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to new technologies, from cleaner and more efficient powertrains to vehicles with autonomous capabilities from automatic parking to autopilot.
As if this all wasn’t enough, Carolina-based technology specialist Freer Logic wants to use neurotechnology to monitor brain function and improve life behind the wheel. Simply put, it wants cars to read your mind.
Pulled straight from Tom Cruise’s Minority Report, Freer Logic has utilised its innovative neurotechnology to use brain sensing to monitor drivers and improve cognitive performance, safety and entertainment. The technology consists of a contactless brain monitor which is incorporated into the headrest and a body-based monitor which removes the need to wear cumbersome and invasive headsets that have been dismissed by most in the industry.
To find out more about the idea behind the neurobiomonitor (NBM) headrest and how it works, I spoke to founder Peter Freer, who originally pioneered neurocognitive training for ADHD students in the late 1980s, after being inspired by NASA’s use of neurotech to train astronauts.
In 1994, he formed Unique Logic and Technology and introduced Play Attention to market, the world #1 neurocognitive training programme distributed globally in 10 languages. Freer thought that neurotech was far too powerful to remain solely in the neurocognitive realm, which lead to the creation of Freer Logic and a body-based neuromonitor called BodyWave to cater for the automotive market.
“Auto OEMs cannot depend on a driver donning a wearable,” he explains. “To work in automotives, we needed to embed the technology. The headrest is ideal as it’s always behind the drivers head at a specific distance. Contactless neuromonitoring had never been accomplished, so we set out to create it.”
By utilising hardware and software, Freer Logic has made contactless brain-sensing possible. Say hello to the future.
The headrest-embedded NBM system is capable of detecting brain signals without directly contacting the driver, meaning that the occupant’s head can be as far as 8” from the headrest while maintaining system functionality. Outside of the auto industry, the technology can also be embedded in pillows or mattresses to monitor sleep.
Like many of you, I was also concerned about sensor waves being emitted into my brain from the headrest. However, Freer tells me that nothing is emitted from the headrest.
“Think of it as a microphone that listens to one’s brain. However, the NBM doesn’t use sound waves. Instead, it monitors brain waves emitted by the user.”
Tests of the NBM to monitor drowsiness have proven highly successful and Freer Logic has already developed specific algorithms for cognitive load, stress, emotions, and driver distraction.
“It foresees using the NBM in conjunction with AI as an avatar/bot that understands human emotions and cognitive states,” Freer continues. “Currently, while waiting for your child to come out of karate class, soccer practice or piano lessons, you can use the NBM to control mindfulness apps on your console by mind alone.”
The NBM headrest also has the ability to detect simple head motions from the driver, such as yes and no. This allows customers to answer calls and access infotainment functions without using their hands, thanks to the advanced motion detection software from the headrest.
“As a call or text comes in, the driver can nod to accept or shake the head to decline. It is being developed as a BMI for infotainment systems,” says Freer.
Your Neurological Best Friend
As the industry develops and we start to see the wide-scale adoption of autonomous technology, this kind of innovation will really come into its own. By removing the infotainment system and steering wheel, or at least the need for a driver or passenger to sit in a conventional way, and you can see the potential capabilities of the next generation of connected car technology.
So, for now, the NBM will be used for driver safety, mindfulness and driver engagement within manually-controlled vehicles. But, moving forward, the system will not only work as your voice-activated personal assistance but your neurological best friend.
“In autonomous driving, the system may ask, ‘We’ll arrive at your destination in five minutes. You should wake up. Should we play some neuro exercises to place you in a peak performance state for your upcoming meeting?’ Freer Logic’s technology is geared towards an autonomous future recognising human emotion and cognitive states to change the car’s ride and environment and to aid the driver with services,” explains Freer.
Using the NBM with artificial intelligence in the future will create a new way of interacting like your car. Keeping in line with our movies references, just like Tony Stark’s JARVIS.
Through the introduction of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), the auto and transport industries will be revolutionised through a new level of safety and interaction, saving lives and utilising people’s time, money and experience.
However, says Freer, these features all come with a cost. “Humans don’t like to be alone in a moving machine. Most are frightened by handing control over vehicle’s computer system. It requires faith in a flawed system that will have to evolve over time. This is a much longer process than is currently being presented by OEM and media alike.”
So, it is important to understand that ADAS presents as many problems as it does solutions. We have already seen problems on public roads with Level 3 automation, which means it is vital to monitor driver engagement. But Freer Logic’s contactless neuromonitor can resolve many of the problems found with ADAS, through passively analysing emotional factors to help alleviate the stress when a passenger’s hands control over to an autonomous vehicle.
“While taking away control from the human is revolutionary, it frightens many drivers. The NBM can not only monitor stress, but it can also provide solutions to alleviate it. We’re working on an Ironman JARVIS type system that will address the needs of the riders in autonomous driving. Humans don’t like to be alone in a moving machine. We’ll be there listening, responding, and problem-solving.”