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Scientists from Stanford University are using the minds of two racing drivers to get an insight into what goes on in the brain of a skilled driver, specifically in regards to steering corrections and car control, with the hope of incorporating those reactionary abilities into their autonomous car named Shelly.

The scientists from Stanford University’s Revs Program, focusing on “the human experiences of designing, making, restoring, driving, being driven by, living with, admiring, and dreaming of the automobile”, examined the body temperature, heart rate, and brain activity of two racing drivers who competed in last weekend’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California in a 1966 Ford GT40.

With electrodes covering the scalps of both drivers, the Revs Program scientists could compare the biological human data with metrics from the Ford GT40 race car gathered through the use of accelerometers, laser sensors, and gyroscopes.

The copious amounts of comparison data meant monitoring of the relationship between car and driver during every lap was possible. From periods of intense concentration to relaxed moments through familiar turns and sections, particularly when steering corrections are made, everything was recorded.

1966 Ford GT40 - Back

The team’s goal is to analytically detail the traits and impulses that let a human driver adapt quickly to car control situations with the hope being to incorporate these dynamics into their own autonomous vehicle.

Stanford Professor Chris Gerdes said, “Skilled drivers are highly adaptable and use a number of tricks based on their experience to drive that line quickly, yet smoothly. This is actually our inspiration in designing the next generation of steering controls for Shelly.”

Unlike a human driver, Shelly is set for a fixed course and cannot adapt in the same way to consider, for example, how warmer weather will heat a vehicle’s tyres to provide more grip.

It was critical for the test to have the two drivers behind the wheel of the right era of car, with Gerdes saying, “If we were to use a modern street car with a lot of electronic aids, we wouldn’t really be able to see what the driver does on their own to stabilise the car and push it to the limits.”

The team’s initial tests going into the race weekend had so far supported the hypothesis that tasks such as correcting a slide, are reflexive or intuitive for skilled drivers, meaning neurons would not be firing during those times.

The bigger picture of the research is to aid in the design of safety features aimed at helping ordinary drivers.




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