I wish the Montgolfier Brothers, who invented the first hot air balloon, or globe aérostatique, in the 1700s, could visit the Design Museum in London today so they could watch people piloting their 235-year-old invention with their minds. That’s exactly what Mind Pilot, on view at the museum now, allows visitors to do.
The installation–created by Loop.pH, a London-based spatial laboratory that has been experimenting with design, architecture, and the sciences since 2003–is a white, helium-filled ballon and a virtual reality headset and sling that lets the pilot “feel” the flight their mind is affecting. Electrodes attached to the pilot’s head connect to a computer, which controls the balloon’s flight.
The electrodes read the brain’s electrical waves through the skull. After some calibration–in which the machine analyzes the visitor’s brain activity and how it corresponds to different motions in 3D space–the pilot will be able to move the balloon across the Design Museum’s atrium, albeit inside a tethered frame to avoid accidents.
Of course, the dream of controlling flight–or anything else, really–with your mind is not new. It’s been explored by movies, designers, and the military for decades. But the Design Museum’s goals with the exhibition frame this longstanding dream in a new light. According to the museum, the exhibition aims to demonstrate the power of the mind–as well as the power of accessibility in technology and “an inclusive future where people with varying physical abilities can use technology such as mind power to experience and operate flight.”
If you’re in London from now until September 23, you can try it for yourself. Tickets are free on a first come, first serve basis at the booth on the museum’s mezzanine. According to the organizers, the slots are limited to two 30-minute sessions per hour per ticket.