BodyWave: The amazing steering wheel concept that knows when you are about to fall asleep
Imagine having a steering wheel that can detect when you're about to fall asleep before you even realise it yourself. Or a phone that can be turned on just by your thinking about it. These are just two of the examples of an imminent new technology that monitors your brain waves and reacts accordingly.
Called BodyWave, the new system differs from several similar concepts that have gone by the wayside by not insisting that you wear a strange contraption on your head. Instead, it works through a device the size of a large wrist watch, which can be worn anywhere on your body.
The core technology was invented by former school teacher Peter Freer some years ago and is already being used in teaching people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), as well as helping to analyse how people react to given situations - such as running nuclear power plants in the US.
The technology works by tracking brain activity sent through the body, amplifying the waves into something useful and then using an algorithm to produce a desired reaction.
At the moment, the brain activity can be monitored to see why people make the decisions they do and help them to change their behaviour in the future.
In the case of the steering wheel, Freer told us that the system - a basic prototype of which Pocket-lint tried out during the CES trade show in Las Vegas - would involve a special steering wheel fitted with two sensors in your car. If the driver is distracted or is sending brain activity that suggests he or she is nodding off, an alarm would be triggered to alert them, hopefully averting a disaster.
Understandably, haulage and insurance companies are keen on the idea, Freer explained, and big-name consumer manufacturers are also interested, include Toyota and Hyundai.
Car-makers are already trying to ensure you don't fall asleep at the wheel, but none uses brain activity to do so. The closest technology available on the market comes from Volvo, which has a lane-drifting alert system that monitors white lines on the road via a camera mounted on the wing mirror.
Where Freer's system beats other warning systems, he says, is that the steering wheel will be able to be programmed to react only to the brain activity you create when you are about to fall asleep, rather than the brain activity signature you create when you are about to change the radio or are talking to a friend, for example.
And it isn't just cars Freer is excited about. According to the founder of the company, Samsung is also interested in the technology to allow users to turn on their phones just by thinking about it.
Here, the technology could be built into a phone casing, again without the need to wear any additional accessories. The idea is that you would have to do is think about something for it to happen, be it turning the phone on or calling your favourite number.
Freer believes the technology he has created can be so customised and finely tuned that it is all possible today - he's just waiting for manufacturers giving it the green light.
On the show floor, Pocket-lint was invited to "have a go" at the steering wheel technology, controlling an animation of a fork-lift truck on a computer screen, by holding on to two sensors on a gaming steering wheel. Concentrating made the truck move; getting distracted made it stop. We did just that and were able to move the truck. And being tapped on the shoulder broke our concentration and the animation stopped.
So, when will we be controlling gadgets with our mind? It's not as futuristic as you might think with Freer already using the technology (albeit with a larger pack right now) to analysis situations. The more friendly wrist watch device is coming soon.
If Freer has his way, you'll be able to wave goodbye to gesture-based motion controllers.