A master’s student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a bicycle helmet that is able to read the mind of the cyclist wearing it and uses coloured lights to warn other road users of the rider’s mental state – ranging from green for focused and active to red for drowsy or anxious and flashing red for outright panic.
Called MindRider, the helmet takes electroencephalogram (EEG) feedback from the brain and turns that into instructions to the LEDs positioned around the helmet.
Its creator, Arlene Ducao, says on her project page on the MIT website: “As many people return to cycling as a primary means of transportation, MindRider can support safety by adding visibility and increased awareness to the cyclist/ motorist interaction process.”
Here’s the tech background on how MindRider works, in Ducao’s own words:
MindRider is a helmet that translates electroencephalogram (EEG) feedback into an embedded LED display. For the wearer, green lights indicate a focused, active mental state, while red lights indicate drowsiness, anxiety, and other states not conducive to operating a bike or vehicle. Flashing red lights indicate extreme anxiety (panic). As many people return to cycling as a primary means of transportation, MindRider can support safety by adding visibility and increased awareness to the cyclist/motorist interaction process.
In future versions, MindRider may be outfitted with an expanded set of EEG contacts, proximity sensors, non-helmet wearable visualization, and other features that will increase the cyclist's awareness of self and environment. These features may also allow for hands-free control of cycle function. A networked set of MindRiders may be useful for tracking, trauma, and disaster situations.
MindRider consists of an altered bicycle helmet, a single electrode EEG device (I used the NeuroSky MindSet), an Arduino [open-source single-board microcontroller - ed] (I used a Pro, but any will do), a bluetooth radio (I used a Bluetooth Mate), an RGB LED light strip, 3 transistors to control the light colors, and a 9V battery. The bluetooth radio is used simply for the MindSet to communicate with the Arduino. The schematic and Arduino sketch are below. The sketch is a little messy, so write to me if you have questions.
Is it a workable idea? Clearly anything that requires you to wear a helmet in the first place is going to meet resistance among many cyclists.
At the same time, when a large vehicle is just inches from your back wheel, wouldn’t it be good to have a way of letting the driver know just how you feel about the situation?
That assumes, of course, that motorists were aware of what the flashing lights actually meant in the first place – a reflection of the rider’s emotions, rather than a pretty light display, and one that in any event would have much more impact at night than in the daytime.
Let’s imagine it did become widely used among cyclists, and motorists were aware of how it worked – it’s sadly not too much of a stretch to think that some drivers, seeing the green lights lit up, might see how quickly they could get them to turn through solid red to flashing red.
You could also see a device that measures cyclists’ brain patterns being of interest to the marginal gains gurus at British Cycling – although strictly for training, this isn’t something that’s likely to get a ‘UCI approved’ sticker slapped on it any time soon.
With our thinking caps on, we can see it having more of an application among the military or emergency services – imagine a police commander in a riot control situation, able to pinpoint where his officers on the front line are under most stress.
Ducao, however, is clearly someone on a mission to find uses for a helmet beyond protecting cyclists’ heads (or not, depending on your point of view) in the case of a crash.
Previously, she has developed an accelerometer-controlled cycle helmet complete with turning indicator lights – tilt your head left and the helmet signals left, tilt it to the right and the helmet signals right.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.