Operator vigilance (i.e., alertness) has been well researched over the past 60 years, showing that vigilance performance decreases over time. While not a likely near-term solution for process industries, NASA is investigating some novel methods to improve vigilance performance.
Researchers at Old Dominion University investigated using brainwave (EEG) activity to alter the task characteristics of the operator based upon their current vigilance level (Mikulka, M., Scerbo, M. and Freeman, F. “Effects of Biocybernetic System on Vigilance Performance”, Human Factors, Vol 44, No. 4 pp. 654-664.).
As the operators’ vigilance level went down (detected by a change in EEG), the system they were controlling became less automated and required more intervention. One goal of the research was to show that brainwave activity could be used to trigger dynamic re-allocation of operator tasks. However, the same technique could be used to initiate other means to “awaken” the operator. The control room environment could be linked to the operator’s EEG to adjust lighting, heating, or other factors to improve operator vigilance during slow periods.
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