Imagine the daily work environment of Army soldiers. Seated in windowless tanks and restricted from visual cues, they travel over bumpy roads, bouncing wildly up and down over rugged terrain. Their tanks’ audio and video monitors are their only connection to the outside world, but they know their environment is dangerous. As the situation becomes more intense, they try to respond to an array of informational cues, but soon it becomes hard to focus. When will their attention decline? When will fatigue set in? What is happening in the brain?
University of Texas at San Antonio researchers Kay Robbins, professor of computer science in the UTSA College of Sciences; Nandini Kannan, professor of management science and statistics in the UTSA College of Business; and Yufei Huang, associate professor of electrical engineering in the UTSA College of Engineering, hope to soon answer those questions. Led by Robbins, the study’s principal investigator, the interdisciplinary trio has been selected to receive a five-year, $2.4 million award from the Army Research Laboratory. Their fundamental research project is part of a $25 million initiative to improve human-system interactions.
To date, cognitive monitoring tools have been limited, mainly allowing researchers to collect data in a laboratory environment and interpret it long after the monitoring session. Over the next five years, however, UTSA’s researchers will develop methods to monitor the brain and interpret the massive amounts of data collected in real-time.
“As the consortium conducts experiments in increasingly complex environments and learns more about how the brain works, UTSA researchers will use the findings to develop and tune new, more sophisticated brain cognition tools.”
UTSA’s research collaborators include the Army Research Laboratory, DCS Corporation, the University of California, San Diego, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Osnabruck in Germany and National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan.
“Traditionally, cognitive monitoring has been conducted in simple lab settings under controlled conditions,” said Robbins. “This study takes that concept to the next level by developing adaptive tools researchers can use to collect, manage and interpret neurological and sensory data in real-time. It is our hope that the tools will help individuals focus on their critical needs so they can quickly process information and make decisions in a variety of stressful situations.”