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German scientists successfully test brain-controlled aircraft

28 May 2014

TUM

Scientists from the Institute for Flight System Dynamics at Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany have demonstrated the feasibility of flying a brain-controlled aircraft.

Led by professor Florian Holzapfel, the team is researching ways that brain-controlled flight works in the EU-funded project 'Brainflight'.

TUM project head Tim Fricke said a long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people.

"With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier," Fricke said. "This would reduce the workload of pilots and thereby increase safety.

"In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit."

To facilitate humans and machines communication, brain waves of the pilots are measured with the help of electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes connected to a cap.

An algorithm developed by Team Physiological Parameters for Adaptation (PhyPA) of the Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin) allows the programme to decipher electrical potentials and converts them to useful control commands.

However, the brain-computer interface recognises only the very clearly defined electrical brain impulses required for control.

"With brain control, flying could become easier. This would reduce the workload of pilots and increase safety."

The Germana researchers conducted flight simulator tests on seven subjects with varying levels of flight experience, including one person without any practical cockpit experience.

"One of the subjects was able to follow eight out of ten target headings with a deviation of only 10°," Fricke added.

Several of the pilots who participated in the tests managed the landing approach under poor visibility, while one test pilot even landed within only few metres of the centerline.

Following the tests, scientists are now studying how the requirements for the control system and flight dynamics have to be altered to accommodate the new control method.

During general flights, pilots feel resistance in steering and must apply significant force when the loads induced on the aircraft become too large.

As this feedback is missing in brain control, researchers are looking for alternative methods of feedback to signal when the envelope is pushed too hard.


Image: Simulating brain controlled flying at the Institute for Flight System Dynamics. Photo: courtesy of A Heddergott/TU München.

Defence Technology