'Mind pilots' steer plane sim with thoughts alone

Seven test pilots demonstrate an X-Men-like ability to steer an airplane through a flight simulation with surprising accuracy.

screen-shot-2014-05-27-at-10-39-41-am.png
Electrodes attached to a cap convert brain waves into signals that can be processed by the flight simulator for hands-free flying. Technische Universität München

Thanks to her kick-butt skill of telekinesis (my secret superhero power wish), longtime X-Men alum Jean Grey can move things with her mind. And she's not the only one.

New research out of the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany is hinting that mind control might soon reach entirely new heights -- even by us non-mutants. They've demonstrated that pilots might be able to fly planes through the sky using their thoughts alone.

The researchers hooked study participants to a cap containing dozens of electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes, sat them down in a flight simulator, and told them to steer the plane through the sim using their thoughts alone. The cap read the electrical signals from their brains and an algorithm then translated those signals into computer commands.

Seven people underwent the experiment and, according to the researchers, all were able to pilot the plane using their thoughts to such a degree that their performance could have satisfied some of the criteria for getting a pilot's license.

What's more, the study participants weren't all pilots and had varying levels of flight experience. One had no cockpit experience at all.

We have, of course, seen similar thought-control experiments before -- an artist who can paint with her thoughts and another who causes water to vibrate, for example, as well as a quadcopter controlled by brainwaves and a thought-powered typing solution. But there's something particularly remarkable about the idea of someone actually flying an airplane with just the mind.

The research was part of an EU-funded program called " Brainflight." "A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people," aerospace engineer Tim Fricke, who heads the project at TUM, explained in a statement. "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."

One of the outstanding challenges of the research is to provide feedback from the plane to the "mind pilots." This is something normal pilots rely upon to gauge the state of their flight. For example, they would feel resistance from the controls if they begin to push the plane to its limits. TUM says the researchers are currently looking for ways to deliver such feedback to the pilots.

My advice? Hire Jean Grey as a consultant.

Tags:
Crave
Sci-Tech
About the author

Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for Crave and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

CNET's Christmas Gift Guide

'Tis the season for a gadget upgrade

Check out these 9 tablets you'll want to bring home for the holidays.