Without a pilot’s license, or frankly, any experience, WIRED’s Jack Stewart flew a plane using just his thoughts. Thanks to new technology developed by Honeywell Aerospace, a King Air C90 can be controlled, in simple terms, by the human brain.
Wearing a cap covered in electrodes that are glued to his scalp, Stewart flew a real plane and he does not have a pilot’s license. He practiced for a little while using a simulator, then jumped into the cockpit. The only other person who attempted this before him was the inventor of the device, Santosh Mathan. Mathan’s hope is that what he learns can be used to improve human cognitive capacity.
Using a computer screen in front of him, Stewart has to focus on giving commands through his brain, which travel through the electrodes, and therefore control the plane. Every time the pattern on the computer screen flashes, his brain flashes with pattern recognition. Then the sensors pick up on the activity in his brain. To help the computer recognize the patterns happening in his brain, Mathan suggests counting every time Stewart sees a flash.
Additionally, the pilot deliberately flies the plane toward a hill and Stewart has to attempt to make the plane go up simply using his brain. This will by no means replace the yoke and pedals anytime soon, but it was a thrilling experiment just the same. They are hoping to be able to measure pilot workload, attention and other parameters that affect pilot performance in the flight deck.
The eventual goal is to get all this technology working in an actual plane in real time. While you will not be able to ride on a thought–controlled plane any time soon, that technology is coming that will make sure your pilot is performing at peak performance. This will make flying safer for us all.
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