60-Second Tech

Thought-Controlled Flight Reaches the Runway

Researchers at Munich's Technical University had subjects control flight simulators with brainwaves via an EEG interface. Larry Greenemeier reports


Ever thought about piloting your own aircraft? Well, you’re in luck—soon thinking might be all that’s needed to take to the skies. A team of German scientists is researching ways to let pilots control aircraft using only brainwaves.
It might be easy to dismiss this as pure science fiction, except that seven people were able to use the scientists’ hands-free control setup to fly successfully in a flight simulator. Some of them were even able to land their virtual aircraft in a dense, albeit simulated, fog and would have passed part of the test needed to get a pilot’s license.
Each test pilot wore a white skullcap loaded with dozens of electroencephalography [EEG] sensors. These electrodes measured electrical signals created by the pilot’s brain cells. That information was sent to a computer, which converted signal patterns into commands to control the virtual aircraft.
The researchers are now trying to figure out how to get their EEG system into a real airplane. Comforting to think that if your pilot becomes incapacitated, the kid sitting next to you playing video games could take over.
—Larry Greenemeier
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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