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In 2015, an individual piloted a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II aircraft – seen here flying in formation – on a simulator using brain-computer interface. (Image source: USAF)

DARPA subject controls multiple simulated aircraft with brain-computer interface

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love mind-controlled UAV swarms
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) officials confirmed that an individual equipped with an experimental brain-computer interface (BCI) was able to successfully command and control multiple simulated jet aircraft.

This latest work expanded on a joint DARPA and University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories experiment from 2015 where a paralyzed individual used a BCI (in this case, a surgically-implanted microchip) connected to a flight simulator to steer a virtual Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II. However, this time, a paralyzed individual was able to control three aircraft of different type simultaneously.

While the complexity of increased number of aircraft is noteworthy, the most important achievement was that DARPA bioengineers enabled the operator to not only control the virtual aircraft, but to receive sensory signals from them as well – where the operator can perceive the aircrafts’ surroundings, including potential threats over the horizon.

Although the notion of mind-controlled drone swarms may seem startling and very sci-fi, DARPA has been actively pursuing BCI technology since the 1970s, with potential applications ranging from “synthetic telepathic communication” and prosthetic limb control to memory reconstruction for individuals suffering brain damage.

The news broke during an announcement at the D60 symposium in National Harbor, Maryland, which celebrated DARPA’s 60th anniversary.

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at

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