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Nissan Formula E Team demonstrates improvements in cognitive function with bespoke brain training program

posted on 18/10/2023
Nissan Formula E Team demonstrates improvements in cognitive function with bespoke brain training program

Nissan reveals the results of its innovative and ground-breaking Brain to Performance program. The findings of this initiative, which studies driver brain function and anatomy, show how brain training protocols can successfully improve the cognitive functions of Nissan Formula E Team drivers.

Furthermore, the data indicates that racing drivers who participated in the Nissan Brain to Performance training experienced enhancements in complex decision-making, stress and fatigue resilience, and quicker reaction times. These improvements can help reduce on-track errors and maximize drivers' pace and consistency.

Continual training could enable the Nissan Formula E Team drivers to reach the maximum potential of their brains in terms of clarity, which relates to their ability to perform in high-pressure environments, and speed, measuring how quickly they can process information.

Following these successful findings, Nissan Formula E Team plans to fully integrate these brain training protocols into its drivers' overall training programs from Season 10. The knowledge gained from both the research and application stages, with further adaptations, is expected to be applicable to the wider NISMO family beyond the FIA Formula E World Championship, including drivers in the Japanese Super GT series. Furthermore, this program highly accelerated the research towards developing a driving skill improvement system, accessible to all the drivers.

The Research
When Nissan Brain to Performance was launched at the end of Season 7 (2020/21) of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship campaign, Nissan Formula E Team together with Nissan's UX Innovation Senior Manager, Dr. Lucian Gheorghe, outlined three key research areas: comparing racing drivers’ brain functions to those of everyday drivers, evaluating the link between electrical brain stimulation and on-track performance, and assessing the potential for this technology to enhance general driving skills outside of racing.

In Season 8, the research phase of the Brain to Performance project was initiated. As part of this research, two control groups were formed – one that underwent brain stimulation and one that did not. Non-professional drivers in these groups participated in testing sessions on race simulators at the University of Essex and the Geneva-based Campus Biotech. They completed 10 sessions on a track they had not seen before, and the final findings revealed that the brain-stimulated group performed 50 percent faster and learned the circuits 50 percent quicker.

In addition, they were compared to the Nissan Formula E Team drivers for that season, and the results demonstrated that the racing drivers exhibited higher visuo-motor skills, increased brain coordination, and greater biological status awareness.

Following these results, in Season 9 Dr. Gheorghe collaborated with US-based technology partner Wave Neuro to develop a comprehensive bespoke driver training program for the Nissan Formula E Team drivers.

Driver Training Program
The training involved the Nissan Formula E Team drivers undergoing baseline neuro scans using an EEG device. With the data collected, Dr. Gheorghe, with support from the University of Texas at Austin and the scientists at Wave Neuro, created tailored training programs utilizing a brain-stimulating Sonal device.

This device uses certain frequencies to target specific areas of the brain, aimed at helping with jet lag and sleep deprivation, improving reaction times, and minimizing human error, especially in high-pressure environments.

Wave Neuro has previous experience employing these training protocols alongside the United States military to aid individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. They have also worked with professional American football players who have experienced brain injuries. Both Dr. Erik Won, President & Chief Medical Officer of Wave Neuro, and Dr. Gheorghe recognized the potential to integrate this into a performance-based training program. They collaborated to create these customized protocols for the Nissan Formula E Team drivers.

The Findings
After using the Sonal device throughout Season 9, a final scan was conducted to assess its impact on their cognitive functions. Improvements in both brain speed and clarity supported the research hypothesis, and it was concluded that further training with this device over an extended period could assist drivers in optimizing their performances.

Tommaso Volpe, managing director and team principal, Nissan Formula E Team, commented: "It is thrilling to be pioneers in this area of research within the world of motorsport. Nissan prides itself on daring to do what others don't. Over the past three Formula E seasons, we have been diligently working to understand what sets professional drivers' brains apart from non-professional drivers, and how we can use this information to enhance driver performance on the track.

“The results following the training program are extremely exciting and demonstrate that with the right tools we can help our drivers reach their full potential. With the integration of the Brain to Performance program to Nissan Formula E Team from Season 10, we are eagerly anticipating how this program will continue to evolve for the drivers, the team, and Nissan more widely.”

Dr Lucian Gheorghe, Nissan’s UX Innovation Senior Manager, said: “Since the beginning of the Brain to Performance program, we knew there was great potential for this neuro-stimulating technology to help improve on-track performances of the Nissan Formula E Team drivers. Our research conducted through Seasons 7 and 8 showed that people’s abilities to learn and retain knowledge was significantly enhanced. The training protocols developed together with Plato Science and Wave Neuro further confirmed this, with improvements in the drivers’ cognitive functions.

“Following these encouraging results, we believe this technology could provide a substantial benefit far beyond the world of motorsports. Backed up by our earlier research at the University of Essex, Campus Bio-Tech and Braincredible, we are excited to uncover further opportunities for this to be used in Nissan’s electric vehicles of the future. I would like to thank all of our partners who have made this possible over the past few seasons and look forward to further developments over the coming years.”

Driving towards the future with Brain to Performance
Nissan aims to leverage its expertise in transferring knowledge and technology between the racetrack and the road to enhance the electric vehicle (EV) experience for its customers. Together with the University of Texas at Austin, Nissan is exploring how this technology could continue to evolve and be integrated into Nissan dealerships. More specifically, how the brain computer interface-based training could be designed to assist customers improving their driving skills quicker. Nissan Formula E Team continues to focus on achieving the highest level of excitement for its drivers by being able to fully exploit Nissan’s EV potential. As the research continues to develop, the more we know and the more we can apply the findings in creative and exciting ways.

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