It’s All In Your Head
By Perry Michael Simon on March 2, 2011
A couple of news items this week indicate that we’re moving a little faster now in the direction of being able to control gadgets and machines with our minds and our eyes.
First, Wired.com is reporting on how German researchers claim to have rigged a Volkswagen Passat with a bunch of off-the-shelf parts to create a car that you can kinda-sorta drive with your mind. They used an electroencephalography gaming headset system and the car responds to certain commands after the system learns your brain patterns; it’s not road-ready by any means, but it’s meant as a proof of concept. And it means that someone without use of his or her limbs could someday, conceivably, drive without having to turn the wheel or step on the brake pedal.
Here’s a video showing off BrainDriver:
Interesting. But if cars are truly going to be controlled by our minds, that could be trouble. For one thing, you’d probably have to concentrate like never before — no more singing along to the radio, no cell phone conversations. And if it really does follow our thought commands, you’ll be veering sharply into the In-N-Out Burger drive-thru every time you’re in the neighborhood. At least, I would.
But that’s not all. How about an eye-controlled laptop?
Tobii Technology and Lenovo are showing off a laptop that uses eye tracking to let you control everything with your eyes. Once again, it’s a concept model rather than being ready for the market, but they say it lets you point, select, and scroll in a “completely intuitive” manner.
“We anticipate that people will be extremely excited to be able to control their computer with their eyes,” Tobii North America General Manager Barbara Barclay said in a press release. “But what we find most exciting are the opportunities that eye control as part of natural user interfaces offer consumer electronics manufacturers in a range of product categories. We look forward to working with our partners to find many exciting ways to share and integrate this technology to advance their work.” In other words, they want to use this in other gadgets as well. Set your DVR with a glance! (What time is Web Soup on?) Nuke your Lean Cuisine by ogling the microwave! Turn your lights on and off with a withering glare! No, sir, don’t need no Clapper here, I got Eye Power!
So many questions: Will this work right if you wear glasses? Are you going to be double-clicking every time you blink? If something you read makes your eyes roll, will it scroll right off the screen? But I can see this being extremely helpful for people who don’t have use of their hands, like quadriplegics; it’s a big step forward for accessibility.
Someday, this stuff will become commonplace. Someday might not be too far off. Until then, keep your hands on the wheel and your fingers on your trackpad; we’re not quite there yet.