Are Mind-Powered Drones Next?

A brain-controlled flight test at the Technical University of Munich.
A brain-controlled flight test at the Technical University of Munich.
Christoph Behrens

MUNICH — As the pilot sits in the cockpit with his hands in his lap, the airplane's control stick moves all by itself. The plane lands perfectly. Automatic pilot? No, the pilot controls the flight simulator — using only the power of thought.

From electrodes on the test pilot's head, "We read brain signals that form a complex pattern," says Tim Fricke, who leads the experiments conducted with the Technical University of Munich's flight simulator.

Test subjects focus on their left or right hand, and their brain’s electrical activity changes depending on which side is their focus. The activity is picked up by the electroencephalography (EEG) electrodes and produces a characteristic pattern of brain waves. An algorithm then "translates" these thoughts into piloting instructions for the light plane, with the computer making the relevant calculations.

Despite the fledgling technology, the brain-computer-plane interface works surprisingly well, at least with a simulator. So far, seven test subjects have tried telekinetic flight, and even those with no training as pilots were able to stay on course using the power of thought.

The EU is supporting this "Brainflight" project to the tune of 600,000 euros. Leading the project is the Portuguese company Tekever, which also develops drones and military technology. Berlin's Technical University developed the algorithm. The engineers' next goal is to identify the best brain-computer-piloting approach. Concrete usage of the system in the air industry is not yet under consideration, although the system should at least be tested in unmanned drones, according to the project description.

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File:Parsin Gas and CNG Station in Karaj-Qazvin Freeway, Iran ...

Gas stations in many Iranian cities had trouble supplying fuel earlier in the week in what was a suspected cyberattack on the fuel distribution system. One Tehran daily on Thursday blamed Israel, which may have carried out similar acts in past years, to weaken Iran's hostile regime.

The incident reportedly disrupted the credit and debit card payments system this time, forcing users to pay cash and higher prices, the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported.

Though state officials didn't publicly accuse anyone specific, they did say perhaps this and other attacks had been planned for October, to "anger people" on the anniversary of the anti-government protests of 2019.

Khamenei, where's our gas?

Cheeky slogans were spotted Tuesday in different places in Iran, including electronic panels over motorways. One of them read "Khamenei, where's our gas?"

Iran International reported that Tehran-based news agency ISNA posted, then deleted, a report on drivers also seeing the message "cyberattack 64411" on screens at gas stations, purported to be the telephone number of the office of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A member of parliament's National Security Committee, Vahid Jalalzadeh, said the attack had been planned months ahead, and had inflicted "grave losses," Iran International and domestic agencies reported Thursday. The conservative Tehran newspaper Kayhan named "America, the Zionist regime and their goons" as the "chief suspects" in the attack.

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