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German Scientists Successfully Test Brain-Controlled Flight Simulator

timothy posted about 6 months ago | from the you-may-now-turn-on-approved-neural-wetware dept.

Input Devices 73

New submitter stephendavion (2872091) writes "Scientists from the Institute for Flight System Dynamics at Technical University of Munich (TUM), Germany have demonstrated the feasibility of flying a brain-controlled aircraft. Led by professor Florian Holzapfel, the team is researching ways that brain-controlled flight works in the EU-funded project 'Brainflight'. TUM project head Tim Fricke said a long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people." So far, the tests are only simulator based, but promising.

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Just not during Oktoberfest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118611)

This might not end well.

Re:Just not during Oktoberfest (1)

durrr (1316311) | about 6 months ago | (#47118877)

Don't worry, when you realize the prerequisites for it you'll also realize that less than 1% of the population will be able to do it.

Re:Just not during Oktoberfest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47119609)

"Don't worry, when you realize the prerequisites for it you'll also realize that less than 1% of the population will be able to do it."

1% of the population have no legs nor arms?

LOL ... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 6 months ago | (#47118613)

Wasn't this a movie? With monkeys or something?

Re:LOL ... (1)

afxgrin (208686) | about 6 months ago | (#47118649)

nah the Robotech/Macross anime series. All the human piloted transforming jets had a brain controlled portion.

Re:LOL ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47121951)

No they didn't. You're thinking of Macross Plus where the brain controlled system ended up being a failure. It was not carried over in the timeline. /nerd

Re:LOL ... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#47118661)

I remember that one. But you need twelve monkeys to fly a TARDIS, or something like that.

Re:LOL ... (2, Informative)

chub_mackerel (911522) | about 6 months ago | (#47118669)

Yes, it was a movie. Clint Eastwood could tell you that the problem with this is that in order to control the plane you must think in German [youtube.com] .

Re:LOL ... (2)

cruff (171569) | about 6 months ago | (#47118679)

...think in German.

FTFY: think in Russian

Re:FTFY... (1)

hoboroadie (1726896) | about 6 months ago | (#47119041)

Think in Russian.

That was for the movie; I did not rtfa, but it would be odd to expect German pilots to think in Po-Russki. [imdb.com]

Re:LOL ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47119877)

...think in German.

FTFY: think in Russian

-1: Missing the point

Re:LOL ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47121401)

Way to miss the joke, sausage muncher.

Re:LOL ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47121161)

Actually, you don't have to think in any particular 'language'.

Re:LOL ... (1)

Nukenbar (215420) | about 6 months ago | (#47119897)

You are thinking of Project X [wikipedia.org] .

Re:LOL ... (1)

synapse7 (1075571) | about 6 months ago | (#47122207)

Macross Plus

Re:LOL ... (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 6 months ago | (#47122641)

Wasn't that fire fox or something like that with clint eastwood who sneaks into russia to steal a prototype jet fighter that is mind controlled?

Been a ehile and on my phone so maybr i will look it up later.

"Brainflight"? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#47118625)

Why not call it "Flight of fancy"? ;-) Having said that, brain control is a seriously cool idea (not in the opposite direction, though), not just for airplanes. (Prosthetic limbs sound like a more common prospective application, though.)

Re:"Brainflight"? (1)

SteveFoerster (136027) | about 6 months ago | (#47119205)

Why not call it "Flight of fancy"? ;-)

That would be a plane painted to look like it's wearing a tuxedo. Paint some white gloves on the wingtips, spats on the tail, and all that.

Why not just self-driving? (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 6 months ago | (#47118639)

What is brain controlled? That the mind points to where it wants to go, and the computer has to figure out how to get there without stalling, crashing into things, going into a spiral and what not?

Because withouth knowing the concepts of aerodynamics, what exactly is the brain going to contribute?

And what happens when the mind wanders?

I fail to see how this is better than a touch screen interface that would turn it into a self-flying plane.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118745)

They don't explain it in the article, but I imagine if it was implemented it would be essentially a faster version of existing flight controls. Instead of having the signal from the brain sent to the muscles in the arm and hand to move the controls, it cuts out the middleman and makes the brain directly manipulate those controls with less latency. The way they describe it, it only looks at activity in certain parts of the brain - probably the ones that activate when the pilot would be manipulating the controls in a certain way.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 6 months ago | (#47118785)

That might be great for fighter pilots, but they're talking about making flight more accessible.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47130879)

"More accessible" isn't well defined here. For example it could be 'more accessible' to your common moron, or 'more accessible' to physically impaired people. The latter is more likely since there is already some research into brain-controlled (EEG) devices for the physically disabled, like wheelchairs.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118847)

I fail to see how this is better than a touch screen interface that would turn it into a self-flying plane.

It's absolutely superior for the purpose it's needed for. Practically, such a thing will never get certified (for civilian use, at least - military with martin baker might be a different story). If it never gets certified, there's always research to be done, which means practically infinite research funding. Safe jobs.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (1)

kencurry (471519) | about 6 months ago | (#47119375)

My question also - is the brain just telling the machine "turn left"? Of course too lazy to rtfa.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (2)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 6 months ago | (#47120327)

What is brain controlled?

It's replacing the physical flight controls with directly brain-controlled flight controls. As to why: a large part of learning to fly (not the biggest part, certainly, but a significant piece) is learning how to use the fairly complicated controls. If you can simplify or even remove that interface, it makes the process of flying easier to learn.

Since this is Slashdot, someone is undoubtedly going to say that that learning difficulty is a good thing, since it sets a higher bar for pilots. There may be a bit of truth to that, but it's an artificial boundary that doesn't actually pertain to flying ability. It's like having to learn to use a Dvorak layout before you let anyone code: learning Dvorak probably won't make you a better coder, it'll simply make learning to code a more difficult process. Likewise, the complex controls that planes have doesn't make pilots better at flying, it simply makes learning to fly more difficult. So, while complicated controls might keep out lazy pilots, it won't keep out bad pilots (that's what the licensing requirements are for).

Re:Why not just self-driving? (1)

Collective 0-0009 (1294662) | about 6 months ago | (#47129031)

Since this is Slashdot, someone is undoubtedly going to say that that learning difficulty is a good thing, since it sets a higher bar for pilots.

I am not real sure why that would be common here on /.? Anyways, I don't think you've learned to fly yet, have you? The complicated controls are there because flying a plane is complicated. And while there is software/systems to ease these processes, the still exist. And when you have a complicated system defying gravity, I want the smartest, most knowledgeable person in the controls as possible.

Sure, there are fuel injection systems that have replaced the carbs and take most of the work of fuel/air mixture off the pilot, but they are not even certified in most applications. The bigger planes have autopilot and various computer controls that take worrying about coordinated turns out of the process. But I want a pilot to understand icing issues with carbs, that you have to change the fuel/air mixture as the air changes at altitude, and I certainly want one that understand basic physics and how the plane has force applied on it and it's reaction to those forces.

More and more the pilots are going to be there for the exception. But when that happens, he damn sure better know how to control an airplane, not run a flight simulator (most of which suck).

It's like having to learn to use a Dvorak layout before you let anyone code

Learning Dvorak is completely dissimilar. That would be more like saying every Light Sport pilot has to learn the layout of the Boeing 737 cockpit before their intro flight. Learning to use a keyboard (any layout) would be a much better comparison to having to learn flight controls.

For what it's worth, I found navigation to be far harder to learn that the physical airplane flight controls. Now as for helicopter flight controls.... that's another story!

Re:Why not just self-driving? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47130933)

I think this experiment has more to do with decoding brain signals in aiding pilots, than actually learning how to fly. Besides, its far more difficult decoding brain potentials at the scalp which has propagated from up to multiple unknown sources, than flying or learning how to.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47120623)

And what happens when the mind wanders?

The plane wanders. Duh.

Re:Why not just self-driving? (1)

DadLeopard (1290796) | about 6 months ago | (#47120885)

I can't wait to see what happens when then they hook this up to the person with ADD, "Oh, A bird", crash! Possibly only Zen Masters need apply?

Re:Why not just self-driving? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 6 months ago | (#47121473)

And what happens when the mind wanders?

If you're in a Zeppelin, the piper will call you to join him.

The end result might involve rings of smoke through the trees.

Must think in Russian (1)

Mente (219525) | about 6 months ago | (#47118663)

Clint Eastwood already did that back in the 80's

man the 70's had great drugs... (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about 6 months ago | (#47118849)

It's been a few years but I don't think Philo Beddoe used a neural interface to control Clyde the orangutan.
Maybe you're thinking of Matthew Broderick ?

Re:man the 70's had great drugs... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47120055)

No, he tried to use the neural interface in his BMW

Re:man the 70's had great drugs... (1)

Ozymandias_KoK (48811) | about 6 months ago | (#47120315)

Matthew Broderick wasn't even in the "Which Way" movies. I don't think you know what you're talking about.

Yes, but... (4, Funny)

necro81 (917438) | about 6 months ago | (#47118667)

But strangely enough, it only works if you think in Russian.

(Movie references [1 [imdb.com] ], [2 [youtube.com] ], [3 [youtube.com] ])

Re:Yes, but... (1)

Morky (577776) | about 6 months ago | (#47118725)

Can't believe I was beaten to this by the ninth post.

Re:Yes, but... (1)

SteveFoerster (136027) | about 6 months ago | (#47119215)

You must be new here. ;-)

Yes, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118775)

Also, I speak Russian, and it was a painful moment when Eastwood makes it by the guards with his unintelligible, garbled response.

Not Quite a Resounding Success (2)

Collective 0-0009 (1294662) | about 6 months ago | (#47118711)

From TFA:

The Germana researchers conducted flight simulator tests on seven subjects with varying levels of flight experience, including one person without any practical cockpit experience. "One of the subjects was able to follow eight out of ten target headings with a deviation of only 10," Fricke added. Several of the pilots who participated in the tests managed the landing approach under poor visibility, while one test pilot even landed within only few metres of the centerline.

So out of 7 subjects, 6 with flight experience, 1 was able to follow course headings with an error of 10 degrees. That's pathetic. It's the difference between Baltimore and Washington D.C. (or worse).

Then one was able to land within a "few meters" of the centerline... and that is touted as success? So that means most of the others couldn't hit the runway.

GPS controls would have done better. So basically success to these guys is "subject turns head left + plane turns some direction left = success".

It's going to be a long time before I board a 737 with this crap on the pilot's head.

Re:Not Quite a Resounding Success (2, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | about 6 months ago | (#47118743)

So out of 7 subjects, 6 with flight experience, 1 was able to follow course headings with an error of 10 degrees. That's pathetic. It's the difference between Baltimore and Washington D.C. (or worse).

Then one was able to land within a "few meters" of the centerline... and that is touted as success? So that means most of the others couldn't hit the runway.

I think the point is that it worked at all. As in, it's new, in its infancy, but very promising technology.

If you're so clever, show us your system which does this. Oh, wait, you don't have one, do you?

It's going to be a long time before I board a 737 with this crap on the pilot's head.

Obviously. Nobody is claiming this is ready for live planes.

What they're saying is they've made the first initial steps with this technology. And initial results in a flight simulator are starting to look like they might be able to make it work.

Why have people on Slashdot started to miss the point entirely?

Re:Not Quite a Resounding Success (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118813)

What they're saying is they've made the first initial steps with this technology. And initial results in a flight simulator are starting to look like they might be able to make it work.

Because this technology is 10 years old [cnn.com]

Re:Not Quite a Resounding Success (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 6 months ago | (#47119105)

Why have people on Slashdot started to miss the point entirely?

Obligatory you must be new here.

Re:Not Quite a Resounding Success (1)

SteveFoerster (136027) | about 6 months ago | (#47119239)

If you're so clever, show us your system which does this. Oh, wait, you don't have one, do you?

Shyeah right, like I'd tell you.

Re:Not Quite a Resounding Success (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47119605)

If you think that the hardest part of flying a plane is the hand and feet skills that this would replace you're mistaken. This technology is trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist, and poorly too.

If you're so clever, show us your system which does this. Oh, wait, you don't have one, do you

Mr. Smartass thinks he is funny but it's amazing who see on these forums. See that simulator in the photo? It's a german Diamond Simulation which is just a rip-off the french Alsim model that was discontinued. I know this because I use to maintain one of these pieces of shit. The flight model is a fucking joke and is in no way similar to an airliner. The QTGs are a joke too. I wouldn't let this thing near a quadcopter or a car let alone an aircraft, especially when it's pointless anyway.
Autopilots aren't rocket science. [stackexchange.com] and with CAT III autoland, the industry barely has to teach them hand and feet skills any more (which is not to say that's a good practice but it's where it's gone).

I wish they'd research something worth a damn, like making flight models that don't suck balls. Hopefully Slashdot won't sell me out when the cunts try to sue me for saying this.

Re:Not Quite a Resounding Success (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47122755)

The point is that this is _yet another_ lame grant hunt - Combine COTS hardware and presently-hip concepts into some kind of dumb pie in the sky proof of concept, get some vapid articles published and some gullible journos to write up a fact-free story -> ka-ching!

Re:Not Quite a Resounding Success (1)

radtea (464814) | about 6 months ago | (#47123227)

If you're so clever, show us your system which does this. Oh, wait, you don't have one, do you?

Actually, I do. It's called my arms.

I really wish people would stop using "brain controlled" for "brain plus millions of dollars of specialized machinery to replace your arms controlled". Saying something is "brain controlled" tells us nothing--it's like calling heavier-than-air flight "massive flight", or fixed-wing aircraft "aerofoil flight". The terminology does nothing to differentiate one thing from another.

While this may seem like a trivially pedantic cavil, it has been my experience that terminology that differentiates on the basis of non-essentials very often ends up misleading laypeople. There is already a robust mythology of disembodied brains as viable objects of philosophic consideration (really) this kind of sloppy language is at the very least not helping.

So can we please start calling these "arms free controllers" or similar, and acknowledge that there is always a brain involved? We're replacing the interface, not introducing a brain. It's like calling a touch-screen machine a "CPU controlled computer" because it lacks a keyboard.

From the article (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 6 months ago | (#47118791)

"With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier," Fricke said. "This would reduce the workload of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit."

How would it increase safety? Seems that you are replacing reliable manual control (often combined with autopilot) with something really finicky which requires your mind to be extremely concentrated solely on the flying task.

Re:From the article (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about 6 months ago | (#47120089)

Yep. A lot of the time when you're "flying the plane", you're not really flying the plane* but doing other stuff with an occasional check back for course corrections (assuming no autopilot). The interesting stuff is usually at either end unless you're practicing maneuvers.

*Always fly the plane.

cheaper airline travel? (4, Funny)

bitt3n (941736) | about 6 months ago | (#47118823)

This should make commercial air travel much cheaper and safer as airlines begin to do away with the single-point of failure that costly human pilots represent, implementing instead a crowd-based solution that empowers all passengers to contribute equally to guiding the plane to wherever they decide will be the flight's destination.

Re:cheaper airline travel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118999)

idk if this would ever be legal, but its a sweet idea

Re:cheaper airline travel? (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 6 months ago | (#47120087)

Sitting in the back starting a chant: Snap-roll, snap-roll, snap-roll...

And we really want to go to... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47120159)

Crowd souring navigation only sounds good until the plane full of business people going to San Jose ends up trying to fly to Hawaii.

Wait, what? (3, Insightful)

chinton (151403) | about 6 months ago | (#47118825)

You mean up until now pilots have been flying without using their brain?!?

Re:Wait, what? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118947)

This. Got a cousin who's a great pilot, and he's never said to me, "You know, I hate having to use ALL my faculties to fly this plane - what if I got rid of the decades of training of control of my limbs, supported by various autonomic responses, and instead had to VERY CAREFULLY THINK about which way I wanted to go? That would be just great, because so many thousands of air crashes have been the result of thinking perfectly yet time taken to communicate with the hand/foot delaying reaction by a few milliseconds."

These are just guys justifying their funding, which is understandable, but entirely to their discredit.

Not impressed. (1)

johnnys (592333) | about 6 months ago | (#47118857)

Call me when this helps get my LUGGAGE to the same airport as me.

Airwolf (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 6 months ago | (#47118881)

Wasn't there an Airwolf episode where they were walking through Archangel's lab workspace, and some researcher was controlling a model plane with his mind?

Or maybe I'm thinking of an old Knight Rider episode.

Make flying accessible to more people? (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 6 months ago | (#47118893)

The summary states that the goal of this is to make flying accessible to more people. Does that mean the research is being done so quadriplegics can still pilot a plane or is it for John Q. Public? Each raises its own question.

For quadriplegics and other people with disabilities, is there really a high demand for this? Are there large numbers of disabled people who the necessary knowledge to pilot a plane? For John Q. Public, wouldn't they still need to know how to fly? Flying is about more than just controlling wing surfaces and rudders and air speed.

For both groups, if the goal is to make flying accessible to more people then wouldn't research into an autonomous plane (like the Google cars) make more sense? We already have auto-pilots on the latest commercial airliners that can even land and take off.

Is this a real problem to be solved or is it merely a solution looking for a problem?

Re:Make flying accessible to more people? (1)

nukenerd (172703) | about 6 months ago | (#47124531)

The summary states that the goal of this is to make flying accessible to more people. Does that mean the research is being done so quadriplegics can still pilot a plane or is it for John Q. Public?

It is supposed to be for the quadriplegics. By throwing that into the hype they hope to get the funding. It's bollocks; what prevents flying being "accessible" (the funding trigger word) is the cost of it. Here in the UK I don't suppose more than one person in 10,000 could afford their own plane, and the concept of owning or hiring a plane does not even ever enter most people's minds. I just once knew someone who took a few flying lessons.

Furthermore, for reasons never explained, disabled people are assumed to be poor (they get significant discounts and allowances for some things) so it might equally well be assumed that they are the least likely people to afford planes (unless the taxpayer is going to give them free rides). All this assumes that we want the flying of planes to be more accessible. Do we? Where I live there are often what seem to be learners doing circles above in light aircraft for half an hour at a time, chucking out noise and CO2 apparently just for the thrill of it. I wish they'd fuck off.

Is this a real problem to be solved or is it merely a solution looking for a problem?

Solution looking for a problem.

Re:Make flying accessible to more people? (1)

Collective 0-0009 (1294662) | about 6 months ago | (#47129077)

Agreed. If he wants to make flying more accessible, they need to figure out how to reduce the cost of designing, prototyping, certifying, manufacturing, and maintaining airplanes. If you have a wife and kids, and make less that $200k a year, it's doubtful you own an airplane. That's what makes it in-accessible.

Distracted Driving (1)

canadiannomad (1745008) | about 6 months ago | (#47118897)

a long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people

If people have problems driving without distractions, imagine if the car went where they were thinking/looking.... Now let them do it in 3 dimensions.....
What could possibly go wrong?

Re:Distracted Driving (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 6 months ago | (#47120051)

a long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people

If people have problems driving without distractions, imagine if the car went where they were thinking/looking.... Now let them do it in 3 dimensions.....
What could possibly go wrong?

Attractive Blondes car insurance rates would go through the roof!

Get Stephen Hawking one! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118909)

He'd probably love to be able to 'play' something

you insensiTive clod! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47118969)

Not connected to EVERY system in the plane (1)

scotts13 (1371443) | about 6 months ago | (#47119157)

(Muses to self...) "Gee, I hope I don't have to eject..." "YEEEEEE!!!"

We have been doing this in the U.S. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47119565)

For years and years.

EEG-based crap (1)

Angstroem (692547) | about 6 months ago | (#47120071)

Given the approach, the listed "successes" are no wonder.

This EEG-based stuff typically works on the so-called P300 response, i.e., the fact that 300ms after(!) thinking something you can measure a response in the brain waves, if you just look closely enough.

Unfortunately, that's not only horrible laggish, but also not really precise. For more complex tasks like easy games like train simulators you already end up having positive interpretation in the range of 48% to 52% (so closely centered around guessing ...), with most test subjects not exceeding around 60-65%.

With some few test persons you might be able to get something in the 70-90% range, but from what I've seen over time I have a feeling that they rather get trained (or somewhat train themselves) to produce responses the EEG pickup system can read better rather than the computer getting better at reading their brainwaves.

Using P300-based spellers achieves a best-case net bit rate of around 2 bits/second. So already typing a single character will take in the range of 3 seconds.

I don't see how this will ever be sped up unless we go for deep brain-probing, which probably no human test subject wants to volunteer for (it's used for mice experiments, though, in certain virtual reality experiments studying learning and orientation).

One step closer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47120175)

to fracking toasters.

so say we all

Do you have to think in Russian? (1)

glrotate (300695) | about 6 months ago | (#47120531)

Not a single firefox reference to be found. :-(

Oh boy, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47121375)

Suicide bombers are going hate this.

Re:Oh boy, (1)

nukenerd (172703) | about 6 months ago | (#47124547)

Suicide bombers are going hate this.

They'll love it. Sit in the passenger cabin and just think harder than the pilot.

Life imitating art (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47122401)

I guess the Robotech / Macross Saga is getting in on all the Star Trek life-imitating-art action.

One-hundered percent success! (1)

Boawk (525582) | about 6 months ago | (#47123019)

After getting a drone aloft, scientists released control of the drone to each test subject and asked them to use their mental powers to drive the drone "right into the ground". Scientists' exuberance became more and more frenetic as each test subject flawlessly performed the assigned task.

no offense but I saw something like this in 1985 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47128819)

I'm can't divulge where I saw this but lets just say my first job out of college was a lot of fun, I saw a lot of things that I can't speak about even to this day.. but been there, seen that. the project may have been declassified because NOVA ran an episode that featured the Scientists work that was used to design it. Eventually the scientists left and just freelanced on his own and did lectures at colleges to earn money to live. the NOVA special featured a clip of the work I speak of as well as his though controlled train set and sailboat. Where I met him he had his train set set up outside his office. The project I speak of.. well.. that was in the lab.

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