Technology with attitude

Clear skies for mind-powered flight


About a year and a half ago I wrote a series of articles on the Puzzlebox Orbit, a small NeuroSky  helicopter that hovers up and down when you concentrate on it. It was a cool little gadget, but what about using your thoughts to fly something a little bigger… say, a plane? Researchers at the Technical University of Munich  and the Technical University of Berlin have created a system that can do just that.Of course, for now the ‘plane’ in question is purely virtual. The system is comprised of an EEG recording cap that sends signal to a clever algorithm that translates brain activity into commands that control a flight simulator.

It’s part of “Brainflight”, an EU funded research effort with the long term goal of making flying accessible to more people and easier in general for pilots (among other things). This isn’t the first german thought-controlled vehicle we’ve seen, but it is the first that attempts control of a realistic plane.

One of the biggest successes of this research is the high precision that test subjects learning to use the Brainflight system attained. The seven subjects had varying degrees of prior flight experience (and one with no cockpit experience whatsoever), but some of them managed feats such as landing in low visibility; the most adept of the test pilots managed to follow 8 out of 10 of test headings given with under 10* deviation in course. Pretty good, considering BCI systems often have a hard time responding delicately enough to control simple wheeled vehicles with precision, let alone something as complex as a professional grade flight simulation.

Researchers from the two universities will reportedly present their results officially in Deutscher Luft- und Raumfahrtkongress 2014 (German Air and Space Conference) in September.