This Car Stops Working When You Aren't Paying Attention

How do you get drivers to stop texting, talking on a phone, eating, drinking coffee, or letting their minds wander elsewhere when they need to be focused on the road? One group of researchers in Australia has a possible solution: shut it down.

Wired has a report on a vehicle called the Attention Powered Car, a research project between neuroengineering company Emotive and the Royal Automotive Club of Western Australia that seeks to end distracted driving. Though the way it works is complex, the end result is not: the car only runs at full speed when you're paying total attention to driving. If you're distracted, the car slows down.

Emotive CEO Geoff Mackellar explains to Wired that driving itself is an inherent exercise in multitasking, but your brain has trouble managing those tasks when more activities — texting, messing with the stereo, whatever — are added on top of them.

So they connected a Hyundai i40 wagon (which, side note, is a pretty good-looking car we Americans don't get) to a headset worn by the driver that monitors the frontal lobe of the brain, where concentration occurs, and picks up on distraction. When the person loses attention, the vehicle slows down.

It's an interesting research project, even if its commercial applications seem dubious at this point. Do we really want to wear headsets like these when we're driving? And what about cars that suddenly slow down on the highway because the driver's mind is elsewhere?

The real value of the project, Mackellar said, is to demonstrate just how often people get distracted behind the wheel. It could be a valuable teaching tool to educate new drivers on how to stay focused.