A crowd gathered for the New America Foundation’s first annual Future of War conference was told by DARPA’s director that a woman was able to control  F-35 flight simulator without touching the joystick. The woman controlled the simulation only with her thoughts, which were relayed and processed to the simulator by a neural implant embedded in her left cortex.

A mind, sky high

A paralyzed women controlled a F-35 simulator with her thoughts. AFP Photo / HO

A paralyzed women controlled a F-35 simulator with her thoughts. AFP Photo / HO

ZME Science previously reported the story of Jan Scheuermann, a quadriplegic woman, who despite being paralyzed from the neck down was able to control a robotic arm to flex, point or grab objects. It’s an amazing achievement from behalf of DARPA scientists who are truly raising the bar for brain-computer interfaces. Speaking about their work, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Arati Prabhakar said:

“It’s so moving to see what an impact it has on people to be even able to experiment with a technology like that from with the perspective of restoration. In doing this work … we can now see a future where we can free the brain from the limitations of the human body.”

At the Future of War conference, Prabhakar disclosed to the audience how one day Schaeuermann made an unlikely request. The paralyzed women asked if it was possible to fly using her thoughts, under the same principles that allowed her to control the 10 degrees of freedom mechanical arm.

 “Instead of thinking about controlling a joystick, which is what our ace pilots do when they’re driving this thing, Jan’s thinking about controlling the airplane directly. For someone who’s never flown — she’s not a pilot in real life — she’s flying that simulator directly from her neural signaling.”

The details are sketchy, so we don’t know how well Schaeuermann performed. But the talk, which you can view below, hints of some exciting developments for the future. We know drones and driverless cars are a hot thing now, but it’s insight like this that suggest these might truly become mainstream soon enough.

Across the ocean, in Germany, researchers at  the Institute for Flight System Dynamics of the Technische Universität München (TUM) are working on ways in which brain controlled flight might work in the EU-funded project “Brainflight.” The test runs they’ve made so far demonstrate an amazing precision for such an infant technology. One of the subjects was able to follow eight out of ten target headings with a deviation of only 10 degrees, the German researchers report. Several of the subjects also managed the landing approach under poor visibility. One test pilot even landed within only few meters of the centerline.

One minds are amazing things, too bad our bodies come in the way sometimes. Not for long.

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