Professor Florian Holzapfel and aerospace engineer Tim Fricke are leading a team of researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM), with the goal of creating an aircraft that can be controlled by thought alone.
To do this, the team created a highly specialized helmet covered in electroencephalography electrodes, which are able to record the electrical impulses that come from our brain. These signals are then translated into flight commands using a complex computer algorithm created by scientists at the Berlin Institute of Technology.
A team from the University of Minnesota recently used similar technology to create thought-controlled drones. Check out the video below to see them being tested out.
The idea seems outlandish, but the concept has already been proven to be realistic. The new technology was tested on seven volunteers with varying levels of flight experience (one had no flight experience at all).
Though they were tested on flight simulators, which lack some of the real-life conditions of flight, even the subjects with little to no experience were able to fly well enough to partially fulfill some of the requirements of the actual pilot’s license test. Some of the subjects were even able to land their simulator aircraft in conditions of low visibility.
Fricke’s goal is to make flight more accessible while also creating a safer, more relaxed flying experience:
“A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people… 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.”
Fricke and his team still have a number of issues to figure out though. In real flight, for example, pilots feel wind resistance while steering, and if the wind load is significant, pilots have to actually use physical force to maintain smooth navigation. The researchers have not yet figured out how to solve this problem.
Also, no word yet on what happens if you start obsessively worrying about crashing while operating the thought-guided aircraft. Hopefully they’ll look into that as well.
Read the full press release from TUM here.
BONUS: The Technische Universität München (TUM), or Technical University of München, has one of the coolest interiors ever, including slides that you can take to get from upper floors back down to the ground floor.