A German team has developed software that lets drivers steer simply by looking in the direction they want to go.
The EyeDriver system captures the eye movements of the driver and converts them into control signals for the steering wheel.
Eye movements are detected and tracked using a adapted bicycle helmet equipped with two cameras and an infrared LED, as well as a laptop with special software.
A 'scene camera' points in the same direction as the person wearing the helmet, while the 'eye camera' films one eye of the wearer.
The laptop software captures the position of the pupil in the eye camera and also calculates the position in the scene camera that the wearer is looking at.
The EyeDriver software in the onboard computer in the Spirit of Berlin automated car receives the viewing positions at regular intervals over a LAN and uses it to control the steering wheel in one of two ways.
In the 'free ride' mode, the further the driver looks to the left or right, the further the steering wheel is turned in that direction. The speed of the vehicle is set in advance and kept constant. If it's not possible to detect which direction the driver is looking in, for example, if the driver's eyes are closed, the vehicle brakes automatically.
Of course, there's an obvious problem with the system: what if the driver looks away from the road? It means that, in practice, the 'routing mode' is likely to be more useful.
"In the 'routing' mode, the Spirit of Berlin steers autonomously most of the time. Only where there is a fork in the road, or an intersection, the car stops and asks the driver to select the next route," say the Freie Universitat developers.
"This requires the wearer of the helmet to look to the left or right for three seconds. If the driver's gaze lingers long enough in one direction, the EyeDriver software confirms acoustically that the choice has been accepted."