MUNICH — As the pilot sits in the cockpit with his hands in his lap, the airplane's control stick moves all by itself. The plane lands perfectly. Automatic pilot? No, the pilot controls the flight simulator — using only the power of thought.
From electrodes on the test pilot's head, "We read brain signals that form a complex pattern," says Tim Fricke, who leads the experiments conducted with the Technical University of Munich's flight simulator.
Test subjects focus on their left or right hand, and their brain’s electrical activity changes depending on which side is their focus. The activity is picked up by the electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes and produces a characteristic pattern of brain waves. An algorithm then "translates" these thoughts into piloting instructions for the light plane, with the computer making the relevant calculations.
Despite the fledgling technology, the brain-computer-plane interface works surprisingly well, at least with a simulator. So far, seven test subjects have tried telekinetic flight, and even those with no training as pilots were able to stay on course using the power of thought.
The EU is supporting this "Brainflight" project to the tune of 600,000 euros. Leading the project is the Portuguese company Tekever, which also develops drones and military technology. Berlin's Technical University developed the algorithm. The engineers' next goal is to identify the best brain-computer-piloting approach. Concrete usage of the system in the air industry is not yet under consideration, although the system should at least be tested in unmanned drones, according to the project description.