Imagine this scenario: you step onto a plane and sit next to a pilot in the cockpit. There, the pilot has a funny-looking helmet strapped to his head. Although he never touches the controls, the plane begins take-off procedures and launches into the sky, where it proceeds to fly to its destination and eventually land. The pilot flies the plane with just the power of his mind. This might sound like something out of a crazy science fiction movie, but it’s actually now possible.
A group of researchers in Germany have proven brain-controlled flight is now feasible. But not only that, they discovered that brain-controlled flight is also much more accurate than you might think.
Seven pilots took part in the German study, each with differing levels of flight experience, from one pilot with no practical cockpit experience to more seasoned fliers. These subjects wore white caps with cables attached to the cockpit of a flight simulator. The white caps contained electrodes that measured brain waves using EEG. The pilots were told to think their control commands for take-off, for making adjustments while in the air, and for landing procedures. A sophisticated algorithm interpreted their brain waves, and turned thoughts into commands that controlled the simulated airplane.
The test results were astounding. Not only was the accuracy of the commands recognized by the cockpit controls, but several pilots even managed to land their planes with only slight deviations, even in poor visibility conditions.
The idea of using brain waves like this isn’t a novel one, and we’ve experimented with everything from using this technology on skateboards, televisions and wheelchairs. But this is the first time that we’ve taken the concept to the air, and these results are some of the best ever seen.
With their success, the team is now working on figuring out how to implement this system into real airplanes, which often experience steering resistance when conditions push an aircraft too hard. Pilots usually respond to this by using force on airplane controls, so the research team wants to figure out how to get their system to recognize and handle this process that is usually manual.
The researchers hope their system leads to safer flying by reducing the work load of pilots, freeing up the rest of their body to deal with additional jobs they handle while in the cockpit. Of course, it’s probably a safe bet that no one is ready to step into an aircraft flown by brain power just yet, so we probably have a long way to go before something like this becomes standard flight procedure.