What happended before
In the last few years the Advanced Concepts Team evaluated the potential of neural interfaces for manned space missions. In 2005 three parallel studies were conducted with European research labs adressing different technologies for Brain Machine Interfaces. The outcome of these studies were so encouraging that we took the next step and set up an experiment to actually test BMIs in a microgravity environment.
How can we do it?
As turning off the gravity field is impossible, only some tricks allow to simulate weightlessness without going to space. As submerging under water is a bit difficult with an electrical setup, we decided to go for the free-falling approach. The safest way to do so, is to go on an aeroplane that performs flight maneuvers which have a free-falling component. The Airbus A300 0G-aircraft from Novespace in Bordeaux is the world's largest one for parabolic flights. It has been used since 1997 by ESA, CNES, DLR and industrial customers to provide repeated microgravity periods of up to 20 seconds for research purposes.
With the aim of going further on BMIs for Space research, we worked on an experimental set-up compatible with the strict parabolic flight campaign requirements, which could provide us with the first indispensable data on short time microgravity effects on Brain Machine Interfaces use. The BMI set-up, which is one of the state of the art Electro Encephalographic BMIs, is provided by our partners in this project - Prof. Jose Millan's group (IDIAP) - who already teamed in on one of our previous studies on BMI.
The team consists of six members: Two ACT experts on neurobiology - biomimeticist and experiment responsible Tobias Seidl and bioengineer Luca Rossini; two parabolic-flight-proof supporters - ESA parabolic flight responsible Vladimir Pletser and Max-Planck-Scientist Cora Thiel; and finally two members of IDIAP and experts on BMI applications - Pierre Ferrez and Ferran Galan. The experiment will be performed on three flights in the week before christmas, each of which will provide 31 parabolas of 22 seconds 0G each, providing more than half an hour of recordings.
Data coming from the parabolic flight will be then analyzed to identify eventual issues related with microgravity. This will be the first assessment of the effects of microgravity on Brain Machine Interfaces and hence support us in defining the correct design for a future, dedicated BMI for space application.
Project page on
Brain Machine Interfaces
Tobias Seidl (DG-PI) (Biologist, PI)
Luca Rossini (DG-PI)