It might seem challenging enough to control an 850 Horsepower race car with conventionally abled hands and feet… and for a quadriplegic, perhaps impossible.
Until now. In an effort described as “tremendous,” a student at Miami Dade College has demonstrated the capabilities of new technology enabling him to speed around a track in a NASCAR race car using the power of his mind.
Honduran native German Aldana Zuniga lost the use of his arms and legs after a car crash at age 16 injured his spinal cord. Nine years later, Zuniga is part of a study, spearheaded by the University of Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, that utilizes a brain implant that allows the user to drive using their mind. The BMI – or brain machine interface – functions as a sensor on the brain’s surface. When the user thinks of a task, the brain activates and the sensor picks up the signal to transmit the action.
According to the Miami Herald, the technology allowed Zuniga to control the throttle of the race car with his thoughts. The process was augmented by a device referred to as “sip and puff” that he used to slow down the car, and another person was on hand as a safety precaution.
David McMillan, the director of education and outreach for the Miami Project, says that grading the throttle response was “the primary engineering challenge” but years of trials helped the team develop a response that made the shifts in speed gradual.
Project stakeholders are excited about the possibilities for this technology outside of driving. For example, they describe a “paradigm shift” where this could be applied to everyday tasks, allowing a physically disabled person to turn on their lights or move a cursor on a computer screen.
After the experience, which Zuniga called “an adrenaline rush,” he encouraged people experiencing similar circumstances to hold out hope for increasing capabilities as these types of technologies advance, saying “hopefully one day everyone with a disability can walk again.”