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Control Aircrafts with Thoughts


Image credit: A. Heddergott/TU München.

A group of scientists from the Technische Universität München (TUM) are engaged in an EU-funded project called “Brainflight”. With Professor Florian Holzapfel and aerospace engineer Tim Fricke as team leader, this project is intended to enable the future pilots to control aircraft by their thoughts.

As Fricke mentioned in a news-release, in the long run, such   could offer easy access of flying to ordinary. If brain control is possible, flying would become much easier, because it not only decrease heavy work of pilots, but also considerably enhance safety. Furthermore, it would also give pilots more freedom of movement so as to accomplish other tasks necessary to be taken by hands in the cockpit.

According to the explanation of Tim Fricke, pilots would put on   a cap equipped with electroencephalography electrodes, which could make measurement of electrical impulses along the scalp. And then the signals would be fed back to a computer applying the algorithm developed by the researchers from the Berlin Institute of Technology to translate these impulses into commands. On the whole, it was kind of pure signal processing.

Even though this seems to happen in the science fiction, but in fact, Professor Florian Holzapfel’s team has already made it possible to work with impressive precision.

The tests were undertaken at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics at TUM with seven subjects with different levels of flight experience. Among them, one subject had no practical cockpit experience at all before. Actually, instead of piloting real planes, they were tested in flight simulation.

Just by brain control, the test subjects were capable of piloting the simulated aircrafts in a precise way that could enable them to partially meet the requests necessary in the real flying license test.

In the tests, one of the subjects could successfully follow eight out of ten target headings with just a ten-degree deviation. More surprisingly, some of the subjects were even able to guide the plane towards landing satisfactorily in the condition of poor visibility.

At present, there is still a long way to go before the system could be put into actual operation, because some few tricky hurdles have to be overcome at this stage.

One of them is that pilots could easily feel resistance in steering in real aircrafts. If large loads are induced on the aircraft, the pilot is required to give relative response through exerting physical force. However, the new brain control method is not capable of such feedback system; therefore, the team is trying hard to find a brand-new feedback mechanism for future application in real life.

Source: TUM