Computational creativity and the future of AI

Flying a plane with your mind comes closer to reality


May 28, 2014

The technology has been tested in a flight simulator

The technology has been tested in a flight simulator

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Flying is most definitely a hands-on (and feet-on) job, but it may not always be that way. Turning science fiction into fact, researchers at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics of the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the TU Berlin are developing a way for pilots to control aircraft with their minds alone. According to the team, they have not only demonstrated that it’s possible, but that it can be done with a surprising degree of accuracy.

Though the idea of a mind-controlled airplane seems a bit magical, it’s actually based on “pure signal processing.” Part of the EU-funded project "Brainflight," the technology involves the pilot wearing a cap fitted with electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes. These pick up electrical impulses from the pilot’s brain, which are analyzed by an algorithm developed by TU Berlin, which in turn passes on only those brain impulses specifically defined as piloting commands.

Of course, the technology hasn't been tested on real planes (so there’s no need to look nervously at the sky), but in a flight simulator. Seven subjects with different levels of flight experience, including a complete novice, took part and the results were surprising even to the team. The subjects controlled the simulated aircraft with such precision that it would have fulfilled part of the requirements for a flying license. One person kept the simulated aircraft within 10 degrees of a heading 8 out of 10 times, and others landed in poor visibility with remarkable precision without ever touching the controls.

The brain impulses are run through an algorithm to separate the control commands

According to the team, the technology still has a long way to go before it can take to the air. For one thing, it lacks the physical feedback that is an important part in telling a pilot if the aircraft is pushing the envelope as the loads become too great. The team is therefore working on some alternative form of feedback.

"A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people," says aerospace engineer and TUM project leader Tim Fricke. "With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier. This would reduce the workload of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit."

Source: TUM

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy

So it's been tested in a simulator has it? Let's keep it there; then it's even safer!

Stuart Wilf Wilshaw
29th May, 2014 @ 02:14 am PDT

Let give the tech a couple decades of controlling prosthetic limbs and bypassing damaged nerves first.

29th May, 2014 @ 05:06 am PDT

Congratulations to IFSD for this promising advance.

29th May, 2014 @ 09:16 am PDT

This sounds like a magnifying lens for Target Fixation....

Bob Ehresman
29th May, 2014 @ 10:05 am PDT

DEFINITELY gives new meaning to the term


29th May, 2014 @ 12:05 pm PDT

Where can I get a hat like that? It fits perfectly with the book I am writing.

Mark Lee
1st July, 2014 @ 03:18 pm PDT
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