What good is a car without pedals or a steering wheel? One such car was built so Rodrigo Hubner Mendes could drive it. How? By using only his mind.

That’s because Mendes is paralyzed. He drove the F1 car using brain commands. A helmet captured his brainwaves and translated them to steer the car. He became the first person to pilot a race car with mind control. Hard to believe? Watch this short video of the feat:

Who and what made this possible? Technology developed by Tan Le, Founder of the neuroengineering firm EMOTIV Inc. EMOTIV is a software company that specializes in electroencephalography (EEG) interfaces, including simple headsets that enable people to move objects with the mind.

Specifically, Le is building brain computer interface technology, a human-machine interface or headset that takes orders directly from the brain. The headset reads the user’s brainwaves and the software moves virtual objects according to the user’s thoughts and commands.

Tan Le

Tan Le

As Le explains, for a machine to do something for us, we have to give it a command, even if it’s as simple as flipping a switch to turn light on or off. Her fantastic vision, however, was to “introduce human interaction into human-computer interaction” so computers can understand not only what someone commands them to do but can also respond to facial expressions and emotional experiences. 

Le created an algorithm or set of instructions that tells a computer how to perform a task, in this case read human brainwaves. She put the technology in a 14-channel high-fidelity wireless and mobile EEG system that she calls a “brain wearable” device. It basically allows virtual objects to be moved by the mind. For instance, the wearer can imagine an object moving forward or backwards, or disappearing altogether. The person wearing the technology imagines the desired action and then instructs the machine with their brain to move the object as imagined. With increased use, the wearer introduces more and more distinct detections that the system uses to better differentiate between diverse separate thoughts. 

The simple to use, wearable EEG technologies have many possible applications. They can be used to heighten the experience of playing electronic games or to drive hands-free control systems, such as a toy helicopter. For the latter, all the person wearing the headset needs to do is think “lift”! The technology can also be applied to more practical use. For instance, using just their brain, the wearer can command curtains to open and close, or lights to turn on and off.

Most importantly, life-changing applications are also possible with this technology. A person in an electric wheelchair can command the chair to move forward or in the direction they want. Even more exciting, facial expressions can be mapped to the movement command, which means that a person can blink right to make the wheelchair go right, and blink left to make it go left, and then smile to make it go straight!

Thus Rodrigo Hubner Mendes benefitted from Tan Le’s technology to drive the F1 car with his mind. Mendes, who is the Founder and CEO of the Rodrigo Mendes Institute, a non-profit organization that aims to give every child with disability access to quality education, believes limits can be overcome. He and Le are doing just that: overcoming limits.

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