August 13, 2009
The Seattle-Times
Richard Seven

I have never caused an accident in 35 years of driving, but negotiating Seattle traffic seems to take more daring than it used to. So I agreed to test PositScience’s DriveSharp, a computer program that claims to hone brain functions used in driving. And since my 15-year-old daughter thinks about nothing else but driving, I made her do it, too.

For three weeks, we each logged about five hours of drills, in 40-minute increments. The video-game-style program gave us our baseline abilities, set goals, made the drills easier or harder based on our performances, and gave progress reports.

It consists of two drills.

The first is “pearl diver,” in which you must track jewels hidden behind opaque bubbles that waft, swoosh and dart all over the screen. The better each of us did, the harder our individual tasks became. We would either have to track more hidden jewels, track for a longer period, or both. The idea behind the program was to improve the ability to monitor multiple moving objects — such as pedestrians, bicyclists and other cars.

The other DriveSharp drill, is “Route 66.” It involves identifying the style of vehicle that flashes before your eyes while also noting where in the periphery the Route 66 road sign appeared. The images blipped on and off the screen with varying speed. This, the designers say, helps improve processing speed — expanding your swath of vision even as you sharply focus on what’s in front to you.

The drills, especially following multiple bubbles all over a computer screen, can be tiring, even tedious. And they are fun when you’re in the zone and scoring well.

From the start, my daughter scored higher than I did. She is more used to arcade-style video games. But mostly, it is because her brain is young and mine is in the midst of the age-related cognitive fade.

We both, though, made great improvements in our scores. The program told us how many more objects we could simultaneously track and how much wider our views had become.

But does the work translate to the road? That’s difficult to say.

My daughter will need judgment and experience along with her sharp mind. I will need consistent cognitive training time before I actually recognize potential hazards quicker.

As neuroscientists pushing these programs say, it takes constant practice. After all, you would not lift weights one day a month and consider yourself physically fit.