Thought controlled flights are now a reality, according to the Institute for Flight System Dynamics, and they are expected to reduce the work load for pilots. According to the scientists of the Technische Universitat Munchen (TUM) and the TU Berlin, it has been demonstrated that it is feasible to fly via brain control. Freedom of movement would enable pilots to better manage other necessary tasks that are manual in the cockpit, and would also increase saftey.
Brainflight is an EU-funded project that scientists, who work for Professor Florian Holzapfel, are researching to determine ways which thought controlled flight could work in this project. Tim Fricke, an aerospace engineer, is leading this project at TUM and has a long term goal to make flying easier so that more people have accessibility.
The flight simulator test was successful, as seven participants with varying degrees of flight experience demonstrated their thought controlled flying ability. One participant did not have any experience in the cockpit at all. The participants sufficiently completed requirements to fulfill a flying license test, with only their thoughts to issue the commands during the fight test. The scientists deemed the precision to be astonishing and logged this test as their first breakthrough. Fricke reported that of the ten target headings, the participants were able to follow eight of them with only a 10 degree variability. Some even succeeded to land in poor visibility, and one successfully landed very close to the centerline, within a few meters.
The latest focus has to do with adjustments for the flight dynamics and control system, as changes need to be made for the new control method, according to the TU Munchen scientists. When loads induced on the aircraft become too huge, pilots are used to exerting force when they feel resistance. When using brain control, this feedback is missing, so alternative methods of feedback are being searched out to signal when too much resistance is present. Brain waves of pilots are being measured using electroencephalography (EEG), which are multiple electrodes connected to a cap enabling machines and humans to communicate. This would be the tool that would enable thought controlled flights to reduce work load for pilots.
A team of scientists from the Department of Biological Psychology and Neuroergonomics at the Technische Universitat Berlin, developed an algorithm that can take electrical potentials, decipher and convert them into control commands that will be useful in thought controlled flights. Fricke emphasizes that clearly defined electrical impulses by the brain, for control, are recognized by the brain-computer interface, which makes this pure signal processing. He wanted to make clear, that it is not possible for this to work with mind reading. EEG clearly cannot read the mind, but it does take the electrical signals that the brain gives off and processes them. As a pilot thinks of a specific command, the pilot’s brainwaves are processed by a brain-machine interface (BMI), which takes the signal and assigns it a corresponding value, similar to an output such as an airplane flight control. People who have lost the use of their limbs have used EEG to write and paint, so now thought control will enable those who currently do not qualify to fly an aircraft to do so.
At the end of September, researchers will present their results at the Deutscher Luft-und Raumfahrkongress, and at other locations as well. The European Union Seventh Framework Programme contributed funding for this research. Fricke believes that flying manually may be more difficult than through brain control, as there is no need for intermediary body movement. Since thought control technology is still in the infancy stages, much assessment is still needed because of the high stakes of flying. Accuracy is imperative. Safeguards will need to be implemented in the event that a pilot’s mind would wander. More testing and research need to be done before this technology will be allowed to soar at 30,000 feet. Although brain controlled transportation may seem a bit daunting, thought controlled flights are now probable and have already been proven to reduce the work load for the pilot.
By Jill Boyer-Adriance