Brain-controlled airplanes

May 29, 2014

Brain-controlled flight in a simulator (credit: TUM)

Pilots of the future could fly a plane by just thinking commands, say scientists at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics at Technische Universität München (TUM) and Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin) involved in the EU-funded Brainflight project.

The system uses electroencephalography (EEG) to detect brain waves. An algorithm developed by scientists from Team PhyPA (Physiological Parameters for Adaptation) at TU Berlin deciphers electrical potentials and converts them into control commands.

“A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people,” explains aerospace engineer Tim Fricke, who heads the project at TUM. “With brain control, flying could become easier.

This would reduce the work load of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit.”

EEG electrodes used in the Brainflight project (credit: TUM)

Precise brain-controlled flight

Seven subjects took part in flight simulator tests. They had varying levels of flight experience, including one person without any cockpit experience.

The accuracy with which the test subjects stayed on course by merely thinking commands would have sufficed, in part, to fulfill the requirements of a flying license test, the scientists say.

“One of the subjects was able to follow eight out of ten target headings with a deviation of only 10 degrees,” reports Fricke. Several of the subjects also managed the landing approach under poor visibility. One test pilot even landed within only few meters of the centerline.

The TU München scientists are now focusing on how the requirements for the control system and flight dynamics need to be altered to accommodate the new control method.

Normally, pilots feel force feedback (resistance) on controls, which is missing when using brain control. So the researchers are looking for alternative feedback methods.

The researchers will present their results in September at the “Deutscher Luft- und Raumfahrtkongress.” The work has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme.