Neuron Concept by Ian Kettle

NEURON is an imagination of the consequences of implementing brain machine interface (BMI) technology into the automobile. BMI could create intimate relationships between man and machine and allow us to simplify, lighten and reconsider both the construction and usage of the transport devices around us. However, more importantly, Neuron and its BMI does not rely upon physical dexterity to operate the automobile and as such, would open both the automobile and freedom afforded by independent travel to a much larger proportion of society.

Brain machine interface (BMI) technology has the potential to change the way we view the world. Quite simply, the notion of controlling physical objects through the power of brain waves alone is no longer a scene from science fiction, it is a science fact manifested already in readily available consumer products. Through detailed research, which included interacting with world leading experts on brain machine interface at Imperial College London, Neuron was created as an exploration of the consequences of this 21st century technology on one of the most ubiquitous products of the 20th century which still uses physical control input mechanisms more suited to the 19th century: the automobile.

The goal of this project from the outset was to explore consequences of BMI technology, the opportunity it gives us to reshape our products and the world around us, not to design how the actual BMI scanner works. As such, the focus has been on exploring how BMI technology will affect the relationship between human and machines and how that will impact on the design and construction of automobiles.

In short, BMI technology extends far beyond simply creating products with no buttons: it has the potential to create much closer relationships between man and machine as the brain scanners can read all aspects of the mind, allowing systems and machines to both know their users intimately and predict what they will do next.

In turn, this will create machines and products that could almost be considered an extension of the self, products so in tune with their users that they no longer notice that they are there. If man and machine do share this new type of relationship, it will mean many aspects of traditional design will become redundant: creating objects with physical options on them will no longer be required and neither will safety systems or deliberate redundancies and the chances of the user hurting themselves or having accidents will be virtually zero.

But how will this impact automotive design? On a basic level, it will mean interior spaces no longer governed by a fixed internal architecture: if there is no steering wheel or dashboard full of controls, why does there need to be a fixed ‘driver’s position’? Could users become so in tune with their products and able to control them with such precision that crashes become a thing of the past? Subsequently, if they no longer require as many safety systems, does the car have to be made of metal? Could we create a more efficient paradigm, a product that has less impact on its surrounding environment and that allows the car to be constructed in a simpler manner.

Neuron therefore is a realisation of this, the first, tentative exploration of this technology applied to the automotive world. Using the principal of not needing a fixed driving position or physical input device, the core of the concept revolves around a freeform interior, a spacethat adapts and changes according to user needs. The freeform interior, constructed of over 1500 superlight nylon strands, each with a piezoelectric shape memory polymer core, shifts its form according to how the user(s) wish to sit, imprinting their needs on to the form of the interior shape, much like metal imprinter toys used by children throughout the world.

By creating an interior that forms not to the regular 2+2 paradigm, but one that shifts and moves according to desires, the dynamic of vehicular travel also changes. The notion of containing the interior within a hard metal box is no longer relevant and as such, the structure that surrounds users can also be reconsidered. If BMI technology could ultimately mean less chance of accidents, then the materials used to construct the product can move away from the pedestrian and cyclist deadly metals and plastics we currently use. Therefore, the framework surrounding the interior, inspired by the flexibility and strength of vertebrae, is constructed from a hard rubber subsequently coated in a soft foam.

Over the top of this framework that holds the interior is stretched a simple, soft rubber skin that changes its form according to the interior layout and which creates the exterior to this soft, low impact vehicle. Likewise, the use of mainly soft, thin rubbers for the construction of the car would hopefully see a large weight reduction in the vehicle over traditional material choices and would create automobiles that fit better and with a lower impact, into the wider social environment.

On top of all of this and clamping the vertebrae together is the brain scanner. This utilises the NIRS (near infra-red spectroscopy) method of reading brain waves to control devices and contains five separate scanners to read the minds of the occupants. NIRS uses infra-red light to measure blood flow in the brain and as such can subsequently decipher the meaning of particular brain activity.

From the start, Neuron has been an exploratory project into a new and exciting technology. The intention was never to create a fully resolved car: the potential of the technology is so vast yet new, that the chance to imagine a new world and new types of products to populate it utilising BMI technology was more interesting. Neuron is simply a marker, one possible route this technology could lead us down and for the designer, the chance to create something truly exploratory before embarking on a career in the automotive industry designing far more real world and production concepts.

Source: Ian Kettle

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