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Scientists Measure Brain Waves of Formula E World Champion for the First Time

The study aims to help develop better artificially intelligent self-driving car technology.

Researchers at Imperial College London have measured the brain waves of a Formula E champion for the first time ever. They worked with driver Lucas di Grassi to track how his brain and body responded to the many twists and turns on the Top Gear race track.

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For the study, Di Grassi was equipped with a wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) helmet that tracked his brain wave activity as well as eye-tracking glasses and inertial measuring units (IMUs) on his hands and feet. IMUs are devices that measure a body's force, angular rate, and orientation. 

The car Di Grassi drove was an Audi R10+. It was further equipped with cameras and a GPS. The study took place at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, the Top Gear race track which is specifically designed to test drivers’ reactions. The research was based on the Hammerhead corner, a very challenging corner.

The study aimed to better understand how to improve human drivers’ performance and to help develop better artificially intelligent self-driving car technology. The results showed that di Grassi focuses on the horizon when driving steep curves on the track.

However, on straight parts, he focused on the center of the road. There were also changes in his alpha, beta, and delta brain waves. When tackling curves, alpha and beta brain waves increased while delta waves decreased.

This is not unusual as alpha brain waves are associated with boosted inventiveness and problem-solving skills, while delta waves are associated with attention. 

“Our results suggest correlations between brain waves, body movements, and eye gaze that could shed light on the ways the brain and body interact during expert driving," said lead author Dr Aldo Faisal, of Imperial’s Departments of Bioengineering and Computing.

“The study demonstrates the feasibility of studying real-world expertise under extreme conditions.” The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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