A collaboration between Southampton University, Monash University and IBM has developed an electric bike which uses EEG (electroencephalogram) to regulate motor assistance to the rider, by recording and responding to the cyclist’s changes between central vision and peripheral vision.
‘Ena’ is an EEG-electric bike prototype system that detects electrical activity in the brain via an electrode cap to record when the cyclist’s brain is in a state of peripheral awareness, with changes to the field of view being linked to the quality of human performance.
The motor’s controller receives EEG signals via Bluetooth, which then regulates motor assistance to the rider’s own performance. The system is designed to work alongside the cyclist’s input to improve their coordination and interaction with the road, or environment, around them.
Ena was then used in a study of 20 experienced cyclists, with the system offering assistance from the motor only when the user was in a state of peripheral awareness.
The researchers behind this study were working on improving what they term as the ‘instinctive narrowing of vision that occurs as a threat is perceived’ and where this natural reaction works against the cyclist’s safe navigation of their environment, for example at junctions and crossroads, where peripheral vision is important for the cyclist’s safety.
Previous studies into psychological behaviour when cycling pointed to some instances of riders misusing an electric bike’s motor assistance resulting in accidents; studying the benefits of computer assistance was therefore seen as an “interesting societal challenge” for HCI research.
Research in the field of HCI (Human-Computer-Integration) is carried out to better understand how people function, physiologically and neurologically, and in turn how computers can support and improve natural performance.
For safety, motor assistance was cut off if the cyclist braked, regardless of EEG signals, and with Ena offering assistance gradually at other times.
One participant, talking about the e-bike cutting off motor assistance as narrowed vision indicated a threat (but before the rider could reach the brakes), said: “There’s a minor moment of panic where you realise, ‘Hey, I need to quickly find a way to avoid this incoming thing [referring to other bikes, pedestrian or vehicles that may obstruct the way if they continue ahead]’, that is when the bike slows down and it gives you time to think”, and: “The bike is actually responding before I’m capable of, that’s really powerful”.
The researchers in this study say that prior work in the field had not extended to peripheral awareness as a neurological state to support exertion, adding: “ENA suggests that our work facilitates a safe and enjoyable human-computer integration experience.”