Sky is the limit

Semaxone, a start-up, promises to monitor the operational status of aircraft pilots using a sensor capable of measuring their brain activity in real time. A high-flying project to improve safety and performance in civil and military aviation.

Guilhem Belda at take-off1*a software engineer with a passion for aeronautics. His favorite subject? Ergonomics, or how to ensure that a "complex system" - a plane in flight, for example - adapts in real time to the human piloting it. The young engineer came up with a technology that propelled him into the world of entrepreneurship: "a sensor and algorithms capable of analyzing the voice and brain activity of pilots to monitor their operational and physiological state in real time".

The diversity of skills required made Guilhem Belda realize that this flight would not be possible without a strong crew. For voice analysis, he called on the Avignon computer laboratory. All that remained was to find a third co-pilot, and it was the Mines d'Alès incubator that played the role of control tower, pointing him in the direction ofEuroMov Digital Health in Motion, where Stéphane Perrey, a neurophysiologist specializing in the measurement of brain oxygenation and its impact on cognitive performance, was working.

Pilot study

For the past 10 years, Stéphane Perrey has been using an optical method called near-infrared spectroscopy or NIRS. "This process quantifies the oxygenated and non-oxygenated part of hemoglobin in brain tissue using LEDs that emit infrared light at two specific wavelengths. A bit like measuring your oxygen saturation with a clip on your fingertip," he explains. Semaxone's flight plan is a bold one: to measure, in flight, the impact of altitude and successive accelerations on pilots' cerebral oxygenation, and hence on their decision-making abilities in stressful situations.

"This highly innovative work is of great interest to the aeronautical industry," says Guilhem Belda. To carry out this study, the partners designed a box similar to a headlamp, and succeeded in equipping the pilots of the French aerobatics team, including the world champion. During these flights, they are subjected to a succession of gravitational forces of + or - 10 G," describes Stéphane Perrey, " extreme conditions which have an impact on brain function and can represent a risk of syncope." A risk that Semaxone technology can prevent, by alerting pilots in real time to their neurophysiological state.

Return flight

Warning, of course, but to whom and how? Should it be connected to the cockpit and transmit information directly to the pilot, with the risk of overloading him? Or should we go through a third party? "It's an industrial issue that hasn't yet been resolved, and which implies different certifications. We need to know what we want to do with it and how long it will take," says the entrepreneur. In the short term, the sensor could be used as a flight feedback tool "for regulation purposes, so that pilots can train themselves to better master these situations. We're talking about neurofeedback," explains Stéphane Perrey.

In the longer term, Guilhem Belda is working with a number of manufacturers to develop intelligent aircraft that can adapt to the pilot. " We're thinking of ergonomic adjustments to highlight certain information or limit the influence of acceleration. Anything is possible, only the sky is the limit!

Find out more about Semaxone's pilots in this video presenting the projects of the EuroMov Digital Health in Motion research unit:

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  1. EuroMov DHM (UM, IMT Mines Ales)