In 2010, British researchers revealed that fighter pilots, despite being more sensitive to irrelevant and distracting information, have significantly greater accuracy on cognitive tasks. When scientists looked at MRI scans, they found that pilots have a white matter microstructure in the right hemisphere of their brains that is different from non-pilots'.
The German team’s achievement isn’t the first of its kind.
Last year, a team from the University of Minnesota announced that it had flown a model helicopter through an obstacle course using thought alone. As in the German system, electrodes were attached to the pilot’s scalp, and his brain waves were used to guide the aircraft.
Creating a mental image altered brain activity in the motor cortex, which was recorded by the electrodes. A computer program deciphered the signals and translated the pilot's intent.
To move the helicopter in a particular direction, a user imagined clenching his or her hands. To go left, for example, the pilot pictured clenching the left hand. To go up, he clenched both hands.
Ultimately, the developers of the mind-controlled helicopter hope to adapt their technology to direct artificial limbs and other medical devices.
In another example, in 2010, a team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced it had flown an unmanned aircraft at a fixed altitude with the ability to adjust headings in response to the pilot’s thoughts.
The TU München scientists are now researching how control systems and flight dynamics must be altered to accommodate brain control.
For example, pilots flying with their hands feel resistance in steering. But this sort of feedback doesn’t happen in brain-controlled flying. The next step is to find ways to provide this sort of critical feedback without physical contact.
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