Brain-to-Vehicle Technology Won’t Make You a Better Driver [Op/Ed]

Nissan brain-to-vehicle technology
[Photo: Nissan]

Remember when controlling objects with your mind used to be the essence of myth and science fiction? Not anymore.

Well, sort of. Nissan hasn’t achieved telekenesis here. Rather, what their recently unveiled research has achieved is a way to interpret the signals from drivers’ brains to control various aspects of a car. In Nissan’s own words, this “redefines how people interact with their cars”.

But does it? I suppose on a fundamental level, they’re right. It would be a novel approach. The company’s so-called B2V (for “brain-to-vehicle”) techonology measures our brains’ signals by virtue of specially-designed equipment and algorithms. The goal? To transform how cars are driven and integrated into future society. They’re unveiling this technology as part of Nissan Intelligent Mobility at this year’s CES expo in Las Vegas.

How does brain-to-vehicle technology work?

Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci hits on a valid point with the trajectory of autonomous cars:

“When people think about autonomous driving, they have a very impersonal vision of the future, where humans relinquish control to the machines. Yet B2V technology does the opposite, by using signals…to make the drive even more exciting and enjoyable.”

She’s not far off the mark. If you’re a die-hard automotive enthusiast dreading the end of cars you can actually drive, like me, hers is a refreshing take on the future of automotive mobility. There are two key facets to this system: prediction and detection.

Nissan is touting this technology as a way to improve reaction times by predicting what a driver wants to do, and using assist technologies to aid in that task. For instance, if you want to put the turn signals on, this equipment interprets that and puts the signals on before you can do it yourself. Artificial intelligence can also detect driver discomfort, and adjust the driving configuration and driving style to enhance the overall driving experience.

Nissan brain-to-vehicle technology
[Photo: Nissan]

Here’s a Problem…

This isn’t truly autonomous tech, per Nissan’s own admission. Rather, it’s taking advantage of the human brain to enhance our driving ability. They’re not removing the human from the equation, so much as trying to overcome the inherent biological inhibitor that is the human body. With brain-to-vehicle technology, they’re claiming you can take actions up to 0.5 seconds faster, and those changes will be largely imperceptible.

But here’s the rub. You can take the controls out of drivers’ hands and relegate the task of driving to their brains. It won’t make any difference. Why? People will still have imperfect thoughts. In the vast, yawning chasm of our own minds, we have millions of thoughts every day. Some of those thoughts will control our muscles, which will in turn be used to move something. \

Say you think, “I really want a cup of coffee”. In the cascade of events that follows, your brain tells your muscles to get up out of your chair, move into the kitchen, and curse at your coffee machine until it brews a piping hot cup of java. All is well, until whoops! You drop the cup of coffee on the floor, shattering your mug and your hopes of drinking something that gives you the pep to make your fellow human beings more bearable.

The same philosophy applies to your morning commute. You’re going along merrily, until you go for that same cup of coffee (let’s assume you didn’t drop it this time) and fail to realize the traffic jam ahead. Your brain fails to register that you need to hit the brakes a split-second too late, and crunch! Once again, there goes your coffee and hopes of making it through the day with an undamaged car. Here’s the point – even if you use your brain to control your car, you get distracted. You (and your brain) misjudge distances. It’s just that, with the current regimen, our imperfect thoughts translate to imperfect movements. I can’t see this system solving that issue.

Nissan brain-to-vehicle technology
[Photo: Nissan]

Literally “Using Your Brain” May Not Make You a Better Driver

There’s always the adage flying around, “use your brain”. It’s usually said right after someone monumentally screws up. Even if you literally use your brain to control your car, your brain isn’t perfect. And that’s where autonomous tech has an advantage – by taking out the human, you also eliminate human error. This system may help us think faster, but if we’re not thinking at our best, it will just make our mistakes evident that much faster. Nissan will have a simulator set up at CES to test this technology, so we can see how well it actually works. Not having tried it, I can’t attest to their algorithms’ ability to dial out human error.

What do you think of this technology? Let us know in the comments below! Check back to for more news, tech views, and real-world (i.e. still perhaps not fully using our brains) reviews! Check out a video below explaining Nissan’s approach to brain-to-vehicle technology: