Now anyone can be a pilot

Want to fly? This could be a much more attainable possibility in the near future, if this study on Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) conducted by researchers at HRL Laboratories gains the interest of the scientific community to attract investors.

The research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience uses transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to "modulate neuronal function to improve skill learning and performance during flight simulator training of aircraft landing procedures."

Elite X-Plane General Aviation Dream Package flight simulator system Credit: Xforce PC
How it works

Researchers first collected the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots using flight simulation tasks in the XForce Dream Simulator package (X-Force PC) and X-plane 10 Flight Simulator software  from Laminar Research.

The patterns collected from the tests was then transmitted via custom head caps fitted with electrodes, which are attached to the scalps of novice pilots using conductive and ultrasound gels. Beginner pilots then receive a low electric current which stimulates the areas of the brains related to cognitive and motor skills.

By applying this type of non-invasive neurostimulation, the scientists assert that the brain's neuroplasticity - or the connections between neurons that are formed when learning something new - is fired up. This process strengthens these synaptic connections, making learning easier and faster.

Although more research is needed, results indicate that there's a 33 percent increase in skills consistency on pilots that received the transcranial Direct Current Stimulation as opposed to in the sham simulation program.

“Pilot skill development requires a synthesis of multiple cognitive faculties, many of which are enhanced by tDCS and include dexterity, mental arithmetic, cognitive flexibility, visuo-spatial reasoning, and working memory,” the authors note.

Notably, while these new tools are currently being tested in pilot training, it also has the potential to be used in high-level, real-world tasks which requires increasing performance—for example, athletic performance.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation has previously been used in patients with brain injuries. It has also been used in clinical trials to treat memory deficits in people with Parkinson's disease as well as Alzheimer's disease. In relation to worldwide usage, such treatments are still some ways off, but the early work is promising.

Image credit: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

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