Flying an F-35 With Neural Implants

Jan Scheuermann and her neural implants are giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘fly-by-wire.’ Scheuermann, who was paralyzed some years ago, flew an F-35 simulator with nothing but her mind and some help from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

An F-35 flying over Luke Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo

An F-35 flying over Luke Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo

DARPA’ director, Arati Prabhakar, cited Scheuermann and her piloting skills last week at the Future of War conference. “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.”

Scheuermann volunteered to work with DARPA and underwent a surgery that placed two sensors on her brain. Initially, she focused on preforming tasks like eating or shaking hands, which she mastered quite easily.

Robotics, biology, and prosthetics are hot topics over at DARPA. The agency has been able to do some pretty amazing things for amputees and others with disabilities.

And as time went on, she decided to try and fly the F-35 simulator. Although Scheuermann is not a pilot, the program has presented new possibilities.

The U.S. Air Force is far away from controlling their fleet with neural implants, Prabhakar noted. But as is the case with many of DARPA’s projects, this new technology raises ethical questions and concerns.

We now see a future where we can free the brain from the limitations of the human body and I think we can all imagine amazing goof things and amazing potential bad things that are on the other side of that door.

Below you can watch the entire conversation with Prabhakar, but you can skip to the 17:00 mark to hear about how one flies an F-35 with his or her mind.


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