An Unobtrusive System to Measure, Assess, and Predict Cognitive Workload

Bracken, B., Farry, M., Jenkins, M., and Monnier, C.

Oral presentation at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) Conference, Maui, Hawaii (September 2015)

Complex, computational capabilities are required for tracking, characterizing, and cataloging objects in space. However, the improved real-time highly-detailed space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities that the Air Force is trying to enable place large cognitive demands on personnel.  The human in the loop must make critical, time-sensitive decisions when that decision entails a potentially dangerous object or a predicted course of action that could be a threat to the United States or our systems. Humans in this situation often are faced with long periods of low workload, followed by sudden, high-tempo operations. This can be detrimental to situational awareness and operational readiness, and can result in impaired cognitive functioning. An unobtrusive system to measure, assess, and predict cognitive workload could warn operators when steps should be taken to augment cognitive readiness. This system would also be useful during testing and engineering when tools and systems are being evaluated. Engineers could accurately evaluate the cognitive and physical demands of tools (e.g. a new user interface), and the effects they will have on task performance and accuracy. We describe an approach that assesses cognitive readiness to predict and augment performance of the human team members involved in enhancing our SSA. First, a suite of sensors is used to perform real-time synchronous physiological, neurophysiological, and behavioral data collection in a robust and unobtrusive fashion to provide a holistic assessment of operators. Second, the best combination of indicators of operator state (e.g., cognitive readiness) are extracted, fused, and interpreted. Third, performance deficits are comprehensively predicted, optimizing the likelihood of mission success. Finally, the data are displayed in an actionable format to support enhanced operator Human Readiness Levels (HRLs), dramatically improving mission effectiveness and event response times, assisting them in carrying out mission objectives.

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