German scientists develop a technology which they think could allow planes to be steered using only signals from the brain. Jim Drury has more.
STORY: The steering yoke moves from side to side - but the pilot doesn't lift a finger. This flight simulator is being controlled by Niklas Thiel's mind. SOUNDBITE (German) TEST SUBJECT, NIKLAS THIEL, SAYING: "If your thoughts are all over the place they can't process the signals properly and the plane doesn't not know what it should do, and goes wherever it wants. You have to concentrate very precisely to make sure you only give a signal for a left or right hand curve." Student Thiel is demonstrating 'Brainflight', designed by scientists at the Technical Universities of Munich and Berlin. Users are fitted with a cap containing integrated electrodes after initial testing of their brain activity, says Professor Thorsten Zander. SOUNDBITE (German) THORSTEN ZANDER FROM THE TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY BERLIN, SAYING: "The computer receives steering signals from the brain waves to steer a system, in this case a flight simulator. We examine how the user imagines such hand movements and how these thoughts of hand movements are transferred into the electrodes....the computer learns to differentiate what it looks like on the electrodes." At present the technology only allows for left or right movements, but the team want to extend that range. In addition to potentially flying real planes, the technology could also be used to help the disabled or even as an assistant doctor. SOUNDBITE (German) THORSTEN ZANDER, FROM THE TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY BERLIN, SAYING: "A main goal of our research is to help people who are paralysed, who no longer have the opportunity to normally steer a system, a computer, a plane and then, probably far in the future, to make it possible for severely disabled people to be able to use these systems." The EU-funded project will pick up speed this year, as researchers hope to prove that the ability to fly a plane really can be all in the mind.