Santosh Mathan, an engineer with Honeywell Aerospace, has developed a system that allows a person to fly an airplane using only his or her thoughts. Wired’s Jack Stewart had an opportunity to try the system in a King Air C90 and was visibly shaken by the experience.
What Mathan calls the ‘brain-computer interface’ works through a cap loaded with tiny electrodes that are pushed into the scalp with conductive gel. With what Stewart describes as ‘a tiny amount of practice in a simulator,’ he could actually make the twin turboprop climb, descend and turn simply by focusing on certain areas of a tablet screen. After the flight, Stewart said the system followed his planned command about 90 percent of the time.
While the concept as designed may not be a viable way to fly now, Mathan says ‘the eventual goal is to get all of this technology working in real time in an airplane.’ The work in Mathan’s lab is designed to develop technologies to measure pilot workload, attention and other parameters that affect pilot performance in the flight deck.