Brain-controlled technology puts the man behind the wheel

FOUNTAIN, Colo. – Revolutionary technology is a game changer for revitalizing people with mobility challenges. Falci Adaptive Motorsports is showcasing their brain-controlled driving technology for the first time Wednesday at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

The new technology is steering adaptive motorsports in a new direction, turning disabilities into possibilities.

German Aldana Zuniga is accelerating an 850-horsepower NASCAR around the track completely hands-free, using his thoughts to throttle the car. He had a safety driver ride with him, in case of an emergency.

“To be in there and just watch how you go through the track smoothly. And it responds to what you think. It’s just incredible, “said Zuniga.

Zuniga had a car crash in 2013 that paralyzed him from the waist down and left him in limited motion with his hands and arms. Almost 10 years later, the dream of driving a car is coming to life.

“So this is my first time driving a car, yeah. And I feel excited. It’s an amazing experience, “said Zuniga. “You have to focus pretty good on it. So it can do as you think and there won’t be mistakes.

Zuniga is a participant in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Miami Project to the Cure Paralysis brain-machine interface program. They’re collaborating with the non-profit, Falci Adaptive Motorsports, on this brain-controlled technology.

“I’m a neurosurgeon and I focus on my practice with those with spinal cord injuries. And I’ve done this for three decades now. And in meeting these folks it has become clear that mobility and independence is everything for them, “said Dr. Scott Falci, FAM founder.

Zuniga has an implanted brain electrode that can capture electrical signals from the brain. Scientists and engineers at The Miami Project and FAM have combined ideas to capture a specific or “electrical fingerprint”. This information is then fed into FAM’s computer interface, which controls the car’s drive mechanism.

They’re on the right track to use this technology for things like controlling a robotic arm, driving a wheelchair, even simple things like turning lights off or opening doors thought alone.

“It could mean possibilities, not just for me, but for the disabilities with other people. To drive a car, use exercise equipment, to better yourself, “said Zuniga.

In this first phase of the project, Zuniga was able to accelerate the track around thinking alone. Turns and braking were executed with movement of the driver’s head through an in-car camera and helmet system.

Falchi Adaptive Motorsports is already reviving up for the next phase of this project, which will add to brain control steering and braking. This will give drivers complete control of the drive mechanism by using only their thoughts.

“For everyone with a disability, don’t be shy, don’t be nervous. Get out there and try things. Give your best. You won’t regret it, “said Zuniga.

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