Research: Controlling a plane with the mind shown possible

Moving things with your mind is not only for superheroes – and you don’t have to live in the Matrix to do it either. Unfortunately, the technology to bend a spoon with the mind is not quite there yet as far as I know, but the technology to fly a plane with your mind has arrived.

Research out of the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany has demonstrated a technology that may allow pilots to fly a plane with their mind.

How the technology works

Image credit: A. Heddergott/TU München

Image credit: A. Heddergott/TU München

Study participants were hooked up to a cap with dozens of electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes and were told to steer the plane with their thoughts alone. Electrical signals from the brain were read from the electrodes and translated into computer commands with an advanced algorithm.

Seven people were involved in the experiment. Surprisingly, all of them were able to navigate the skies well enough to meet the basic requirements for a pilot’s license. The study participants were not all pilots and one participant had no flight experience at all.

The research was funded by a program called Brainflight – a project a vision of making flying accessible to more people. Tim Fricke, an aerospace engineer that leads the TUM project explains, “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.”

Challenges of mind-controlled flight

A major challenge faced in this project is developing a way to provide necessary feedback from the plane to the pilots. Normally, pilots will feel feedback and resistance from controls as the plane is pushed to or beyond its limits. Researchers at TUM are currently looking for alternative ways to implement this feedback.

By using the electrodes, perhaps they could send electricity to zap participants brains when they push the plane too hard. Or maybe I should just let the TUM researchers develop a more humane and ethical solution.

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