As he climbed into the driver’s seat, Rodrigo Mendes saw neither pedals nor a steering wheel. The car started to move and turned onto the road. Rodrigo had never driven before in his life, but the car was following the commands he was giving with his thoughts. This is not the beginning of a South American science fiction novel, but a true-to-life account of the work of Rodrigo Mendes, 43, who’s been a paraplegic since 1992, when he took a bullet in the neck during a car theft in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Last April, Mendes, who now directs an institute dedicated to the rehabilitation and social integration of people with disabilities of various types, drove a race car using a special device capable of “reading” brain waves and translating them into instructions which can be executed by machines, such as “turn right,” ”slow down” or “speed up.”
This type of technology is called “brain-computer interfaces” or “neurotechnology,” and it has just left the experimental stage, turning into commercial products available on the market. This is great news for those suffering from diseases that restrict their motor skills. However, these technologies are also being put to other uses.