Even though the technology is still at its proof of concept stage, can Tekever’s Brainflight someday allow pilots to fly aircraft via their thoughts alone?
By: Ringo Bones
Ricardo Mendes, COO of Portugal based drone specialists Tekever has now become the latest cause célèbre in the tech and aviation world for demonstrating a system that allows a pilot to control an unmanned drone in flight via their thoughts alone. Even though the technology is still at its proof of concept stage, Tekever’s Brainflight has practical implications that go beyond the drone and aviation world – it could make fully paralyzed individuals control their wheelchairs using their thoughts alone. But in the short-term, Tekever is eyeing to market their system that allows individuals with restricted movement to pilot a plane with the same ease as an able-bodied individual.
In the long term, the firm said piloting of larger jets, such as cargo planes, could be controlled this way without the need of crew on board. However, one aviation expert – John Strickland, an independent aviation consultant based in London – recently told the BBC that the largely conservative civil aviation industry would be unlikely to adopt such technology due to the current perception of Tekever’s Brainflight that the civil aviation industry sees as potentially unsafe. Mr. Strickland said the airline industry was instead currently focusing its innovation efforts towards things like better aircraft construction materials and more economical engines.
Drone specialists Tekever, which works with security firms, police forces and the military, adopted existing electroencephalography (EEG) technology so it could issue instructions to the software used to give the unmanned drone instructions reminiscent of those “neural interface control networks” featured in late 1990s era episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. EEG works by detecting activity in specific parts of the brain. After several months of training, “pilots” are said to be able to teach their brain how to think about moving a small circle on a computer screen either up or down, which in turn steers the drone left or right.
“We believe that Brainflight represents the beginning of a tremendous step change in the aviation field, empowering pilots and de-risking missions and we’re looking forward to deliver these benefits to the market with highly innovative products.”- says Ricardo Mendes, chief operating officer of Tekever. However, similar neural interface control systems have origins that go back to the early 1970s. Back in 1974, a computer was hooked up to the human brain via an electroencephalography (EEG) electrode studded skull-cap as an interface by Lawrence Pinneo of Stanford Research Institute.