Simulating brain controlled flying at the Institute
for Flight System Dynamics.
The pilot is wearing a white cap with myriad
attached cables. His gaze is concentrated on the runway ahead of him. All of a
sudden the control stick starts to move, as if by magic. The airplane banks and
then approaches straight on towards the runway. The position of the plane is
corrected time and again until the landing gear gently touches down. During the
entire maneuver the pilot touches neither pedals nor controls.
This is not a scene from a science fiction movie,
but rather the rendition of a test at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics
of the Technische Universität München (TUM). Scientists working for Professor
Florian Holzapfel are researching ways in which brain controlled
flight might work in the EU-funded project "Brainflight." "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, in itself, 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."
The scientists have logged their first breakthrough:
They succeeded in demonstrating that brain-controlled flight is indeed possible
– with amazing precision. Seven subjects took part in the flight simulator
tests. They had varying levels of flight experience, including one person
without any practical cockpit experience whatsoever. 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. "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 in
particular on the question of how the requirements for the control system and
flight dynamics need to be altered to accommodate the new control method.
Normally, pilots feel resistance in steering and must exert significant force
when the loads induced on the aircraft become too large. This feedback is
missing when using brain control. The researchers are thus looking for
alternative methods of feedback to signal when the envelope is pushed too hard,
Electrical potentials are converted into control
In order for humans and machines to communicate,
brain waves of the pilots are measured using electroencephalography (EEG)
electrodes connected to a cap. An algorithm developed by scientists from the
Department of Biological Psychology and Neuroergonomics at the Berlin Institute
of Technology allows the program to decipher electrical potentials and convert
them into useful control commands.
Only the very clearly defined electrical brain
impulses required for
control are recognized by the brain-computer interface. "This is pure signal
processing," emphasizes Fricke. Mind reading is not possible.
The researchers will present their results end of
September at the "Deutscher Luft- und Raumfahrtkongress."
Source: Physorg URL: