Future Technology

This Brain-Computer Interface Can Fly A Plane Using Your Mind

Honeywell Builds Brain-Computer Interface to Fly Plane
PHOTOGRAPH: Avitya | Photo shows a KingAir C90.

Brain-computer interface has come of age. It offers many uses for both normally functioning individuals as well as those who are paralyzed. Recently, the technology was used to fly a plane.

The technological system developed by neurotechnology researcher Santosh Mathan from Honeywell Aerospace, enables a pilot to use mind control to fly a working airplane. An actual test was made using the Beechcraft King Air C90, with the end in view of further refining the neurotechnology.

How the Mind Control Tech Works

Signals in brain electrical activity are monitored and interpreted by the system, which translates to movement commands. A pilot gets connected to the system using a set of 32 electrodes threaded through a skull cap. Using a brain-computer interface, the pilot is able to monitor his/her brain activity.

The pilot just needs to concentrate on arrows on the interface that will tell the computer what he wants the plane to do.  The computer waits until it has registered several signals in a row, before following the commands.

The mechanism is similar to another modern innovation that utilized mind control without a brain implant —  a robotic arm that is directed to do tasks through an electroencephalography (EEG)-based brain-computer interface. The interface records tiny electrical activities produced by neurons in the brain of a person (using a high-tech EEG cap fitted with 64 electrodes).

The Brain as Computer Interface

Brain-computer interfaces have long been used to control cursors on a screen and to fly small drones. Research scientists are optimistic that the technology will someday be of great use to people with disabilities who need to interact with their environment in a more convenient manner.

The most advanced work comes out of a consortium called BrainGate, which has so far implanted BCIs in about a dozen humans, intended to help them deal with paralysis from ALS or strokes.  most of those people get electrodes implanted under their skulls.

Leading the Research Efforts

Honeywell has been leading research efforts aimed at developing practical applications of neurotechnology. Among the areas encompassed by Honeywell’s research is the estimation of cognitive state, prediction of future cognitive state, enhancement of the cognitive capabilities of people, and design of computer interfaces linked with brain signals.

The company has been exploring applications for neurotechnology in the cockpit — providing a hands-free way to control systems.  The recent test flight is the product of 12 years of work. From a simulator, Honeywell has taken things up a notch by taking the technology to the air.


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