FOUNTAIN, Colo. — Revolutionary technology is revving up to be a game changer for people with mobility challenges. Falci Adaptive Motorsports showcased 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 riding 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 was in a car crash in 2013 that paralyzed him from the waist down and left him with limited motion in 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 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 my practice on those with spinal cord injuries. And I’ve done this for three decades now. And in meeting these folks it’s become clear that mobility and independence is everything for them,” said Dr. Scott Falci, FAM founder.
Zuniga has an implanted brain electrode which can capture electrical signals from the brain. Scientists and engineers at The Miami Project and FAM have combined forces to capture a specific thought 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 through thought alone.
“It could mean possibilities, not only for me, but for other people with disabilities. To drive a car, to use exercise equipment, to better yourself,” said Zuniga.
In this first phase the project, Zuniga was able to accelerate around the track using thought 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 revving up for the next phase of this project, which will add brain control to steering and braking. This will give drivers complete control of the drive mechanism by only using 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.