An EU-funded project has flown a drone controlled from the ground using only a person’s brainwaves. The technology could one day make it easier to pilot larger aircraft, such as cargo jets, and result in safer airways, say the project’s researchers.
The BRAINFLIGHT project’s demonstration of a control system to interpret a humans brain signals and convert them into commands took place at a small airport near Lisbon, Portugal in May 2014.
An operator wearing a skin-tight head cap that picks up electric signals from brain activity was able to control the drone’s path by thinking about the movements he wanted it to take during the live test. The drone was a specially equipped model of a plane about half the length of a human.
Essentially, the electricity flowing through a pilot’s brain acts as an input to the drone’s control system to follow a flight path, says project coordinator Andre Oliveira, of Tekever in Portugal.
The demonstration results suggest that the technology could eventually be used to help pilots fly small aeroplanes and even large cargo jets more efficiently – increasing safety in the air.
A more developed system, once authorised for use, could allow pilots to concentrate more than is currently possible on evaluating their current flight situation, while another part of their brain focuses simultaneously on controlling the plane. The system, in effect, transforms thoughts into an additional ‘hand’, or way to control flight.
The project suggests that larger jets, such as cargo planes, could even be controlled this way without the need for a crew on board. But a fully developed system would take some time before it could become operational “during this century”, says Oliveira. Much more development work is needed, along with testing and regulatory clearance, before it can be put into commercial use.
“This is an amazing high-risk and high-payoff project, with a long-term impact that will require a lot more development,” he adds. “We truly believe that BRAINFLIGHT represents the beginning of a tremendous step change in the aviation field, empowering pilots and reducing risks.”
More information on the subject here.