Lewis Hamilton agrees to F1 race against quadriplegic in EEG headset world first

Lewis Hamilton is no stranger to racing F1 cars, with the second-highest number of Grand Prix wins ever (62) under his belt, but we doubt he’s ever experienced anything like the race he’s agreed to.

Speaking at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) education conference in Dubai, Hamilton agreed to a race where both he and his competitor control their cars with just their brainwaves. 

The agreement came at the end of a session where Hamilton was talking about what it takes to become a champion and how to use sport to inspire young people. The panel was thrown open to questions from the audience and Rodrigo Hübner Mendes threw down the unusual gauntlet.

Fighting disability with F1

If Mendes’ name sounds familiar, you may know him from a news story that will make the request seem a little less bizarre. In 2017 he was the first person ever to drive an F1 car using his brain. 

The car had no steering wheel, gear stick, even pedals. Not that any of those things would have made much of a difference for Mendes – he was tragically left paralysed in his youth after being shot in the spine during a carjacking. 

He’s dedicated his life to education, being the CEO of a non-profit charity to improve education for disabled people, and while the F1 stunt looks like a lot of fun, the emotional resonance of a man who became paralysed in a carjacking driving can’t be overlooked. 

This is all made possible thanks to an EEG headset called the Emotiv Epoc+ from Emotiv that can accurately measure your brain-wave signals, and then allocate those signals to commands, allowing you to control devices using your brain. Check out the video of the event below:

Of course, utilizing neuroscience in this way is a major advance for disabled people, but has applications beyond that for the control of electronic devices. While at GESF I used the commercially available version of the headset to control the flying of a drone using my brain. 

What’s amazing is that when Hamilton was asked, he clearly hadn’t known anything about the challenge beforehand (but did know about Mendes' achievement), and was visibly excited about meeting Mendes, and very keen on the idea of the race.

Mendes proffered that the F1 champ could race normally but Hamilton quickly said that he wanted to use the EEG headset. According to Olivier Oullier, president of Emotiv, a car will have to be specially created because they currently only have one, but he didn’t indicate that was going to be a problem.

It’s just a verbal agreement at the moment, so there’s still the possibility that Hamilton’s team could stop the race (we imagine insurance could be an issue) but we’re keeping our fingers crossed it happens.

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