Jaguar wants to monitor its drivers' brainwaves, heart rate, and breathing

By Jacob Kastrenakes, TheVerge.com

A future Jaguar could monitor your brain, detect your health, and predict your actions. It sounds incredibly futuristic, but they're all elements of different projects that Jaguar Land Rover is working on right now in order to make its cars much smarter and safer. It detailed the projects today in a news post, following up last week's announced that it was developing sensors that could monitor for potholes.

"We believe some of the technologies currently being used in aerospace and medicine could help improve road safety and enhance the driving experience," says Wolfgang Epple, Jaguar's research and technology director. "These research projects are investigating how we could exploit this for the benefit of our customers and other road users."

Brain activity, heart rate, and breathing monitors could tell if a driver is alert

The brain monitoring tech is easily the most incredible sounding project of the bunch. Jaguar wants its cars to be able to tell if a person is paying attention to the road or off daydreaming, so that it can try to make the driver alert again should they lose focus. It says that's possible by monitoring for brainwaves that indicate a person is tired or distracted. The problem — aside from reliability issues — is that current brainwave monitors typically involve a headset. But Jaguar says that it should be able to monitor for brainwaves through sensors embedded in the steering wheel. It's apparently looking into adapting tech that's already used by NASA to monitor pilots' concentration.

If the tech works, Jaguar says that it may try to get drivers focused again by vibrating the steering wheel or pedals. If that doesn't work, it might move on to warning icons and sounds. The development could certainly be a help today, but Jaguar imagines it being particularly important in the future when it's selling self-driving cars. The car may have to hand off control to a driver at some point, and it's critical to know if the driver is ready.

That concern also stretches into Jaguar's interest in monitoring its drivers' health through their heart rate and breathing. It says that it's testing a "medical-grade sensor" that can be embedded in a seat and monitor heart rate and breathing through vibrations. Jaguar hopes that the sensors will be able to detect "the onset of sudden and serious illness," and give the car enough information to know when a person isn't in the right shape to drive (it wouldn't be a bad idea to autonomously reroute someone to a hospital at that point, too). One additional amazing part about this: Jaguar even imagines that the car could tell if a driver is a little stressed out and then put on some mood lighting or smooth music to help them chill out.

Other projects are aimed at increasing driver awareness in the short term

While those two research projects are partly focused on making autonomous driving safe, Jaguar is detailing two other projects that are meant more for current vehicles. One is a "haptic accelerator pedal" that could pulse or vibrate in order to alert a driver to whether they were going over the speed limit or were close to hitting another car.

The other project is an infotainment system that could detect what button a driver means to push before they actually touch it. It would apparently use cameras to follow a driver's hand and predict mid-air what they mean to press. It might even use ultrasonic waves to create a tapping or tingling sensation in a person's finger so that they know the system registered their movement. The idea is that this could reduce the time a driver is looking away from the wheel, however briefly (in tests, Jaguar says it's increased button selection speed by 22 percent), but it also sounds like it could be far more frustrating and time consuming if it doesn't work.

It's not clear how far along any of these projects are, and some of them are evidently meant for cars that are likely many years out. Still, the details that Jaguar has been giving on how it's trying to bring advanced tech into the car have been fascinating, and they suggest a much more advanced vehicle than most of us have been imagining driving down the road one day.

Ruben HorbachComment