Brain controls airplane - and perhaps soon, cars?

May 27, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
No, this article is not about automotive electronics - at least not yet. But it shows how automated driving in the future perhaps could be complemented: Through the thoughts of the driver.

Scientists from the Technical Universities of Berlin and Munich have demonstrated that an airplane can be flown without touching the yoke - controlled only by the thoughts of the pilot. In an experiment, the scientists wired the brain of the test person with an electroencephalograph through a dozens of electrodes. An algorithm developed at the Berlin TU deciphered the electrical signals from the brain and transformed them into control instructions for an airplane - actually it was a flight simulator with a rather realistic visual representation of the environment and with real control elements. However, the test person did not even touch these control elements, instead he "flew" the plane by means of the signals right from his brain in a demonstration.

The demonstration was part of the Brainflight research project. Within this project, a team around professor Florian Holzapfel from the Munich Technical University tries to find ways to allow humans to directly interact with machines - in this case an airplane, and tomorrow perhaps a car. For the time being, flying is in the focus of the project. "Our long-term vision is to enable more people to fly", said aerospace engineer Tim Fricke who oversees the project. "Steering an aircraft by thoughts could make it much easier to fly. The workload of pilots could be reduced, which in turn would increase the safety level. In addition, pilots could get more freedom of action and assume other manual tasks in the cockpit".

The scientists now achieved a first breakthrough: They were able to demonstrate that brain-steered flying is possible. And with surprisingly high precision, they pointed out. Seven test persons participated in the flight simulator tests. They had very different levels of experience and knowledge with flying - one of the test persons never before has been on the pilot's seat. They were able to control the simulator at a level of exactness and precision that parts of it