Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blogging on Division 21 talks from the 2012 American Psychological Association Annual Meeting: IED Detection

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are responsible for majority of deaths or injuries in overseas combats.

In his talk, Dr. Russel Branagahan discussed the techniques that he and his colleagues used to determine the strategies that experts use to detect IEDs and how this information can be used to create simulators for training novices.

Some of the techniques that were employed are described below:
  • Observations and unstructured interviews:  These techniques revealed that discovering an already placed IED is very difficult and that success lies in detecting the IED placement as it is happening. Individuals also exhibit certain consistent behaviours during the IED placement process (such as several individuals adding trash to a heap until someone finally planting the IED).
  • Concurrent verbal protocols: In this technique, the research team presented sensor operators with video replays of IED events and concurrently elicited information on the cues and strategies that they employed in IED detection. This technique helped to glean important information with regard to search strategies, camera operation, and contextual cues to look for (e.g., people digging on the side of the road, disturbed earth, and behaviour inconsistent with the time of the day).
  • Structured interviews: Through this technique, the research team asked experts to walkthrough various suspicious situations and to explain the cues that led to an alert. This provided information on important environmental characteristics that need to be paid attention to, such as pattern and activities of people (e.g., loitering, running, evacuating a street), terrain (e.g., tunnel, trash), and things (e.g., car, dead animal, shovel).
The information obtained through these techniques will be used to develop simulator scenarios.

Photo credit: US Army via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Can Technology Come to the Rescue of the Distracted Driver?

In my previous post, I discussed how technology can be a bane to a driver. In this post, I discuss how technology can help the distracted driver.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, cell phones are responsible for 18% of fatalities in distraction-related crashes. Hence, it is important to reduce distractions caused by cell phones. This article in Ergonomics in Design by Dr. Linda Angell, a Research Scientist at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, discusses various software applications that can be used to reduce driver distractions associated with cell phone use. These applications vary with respect to what they do. is a software application that reads out texts and emails to drivers, without drivers having to touch their cell phones. Dial2do is a similar software application that allows drivers to listen to and send texts and emails, tweets etc. The perceived advantage of these apps is that these are hands-free. This reminded me of Henry Thoreau’s quote “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see”. These applications certainly facilitate “looking” but may fail to promote “seeing” because drivers are still using their cognitive resources to think about the world outside of the driving environment via the texts and emails. Therefore, though these apps may not necessarily help with cognitive distractions (because drivers are still listening to and comprehending texts and emails while driving), it is one step in the right direction – which is, helping drivers keep their hands in the steering wheel and their eyes on the road.

Zoomsafer is an application that can be downloaded onto your phone and provides auto-replies to incoming texts and calls stating that the driver is driving and is unable to receive calls and texts. TrinityNoble’s Guardian Angel MP is another application that locks the cell phone when the car is traveling above a certain speed limit, thereby disallowing any cell phone usage.

These applications can be used by a conscientious driver to parents wanting to enforce ‘no-texting while driving’ on their children to companies wanting to avoid lawsuits that arise due to motor accidents involving use of cell phones.

Photo credit: Edbrown05 via Wikimedia Commons 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Technology and the Distracted Driver

Mr. Mouhamad Naboulsi’s recent post in the Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making group on Linkedin bought my attention to this articleRoximity and Ford have partnered to make an app that would be available in cars that bring location-based deal alerts to drivers. The information from the app in your smartphone will be displayed on Ford’s dashboard. You can find more information on this here.

Granted the app might be fantastic in finding eye-popping deals on gas, restaurants, and department stores, the question here is why should this information be relayed to people while they are driving? According to a 2009 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,474 people were killed and an additional of 448,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes in the United States as a result of distracted driving. So do we need any more distractions on the road?

Photo credit: The Library of Congress via Flickr

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Live Agents

A month back, I was travelling outside the United States and attempted to buy credit to place internet calls, to connect with my family. I entered my payment information and received a message stating that “We were unable to process your request. Try again later”. I repeated this 5 times (because I kept receiving this message) only to find out that I have been charged 5 items. However, I was able to chat with a live agent and get this issue resolved in no time.

Now, this is not the first time I have chatted with a live agent to help me with my queries. I have used this feature for shopping enquiries to billing enquiries.

Chatting is so much more hassle-free in comparison to waiting for an agent on the phone. Advantages of getting support from live agents over telephone support include:
  • It is faster.
  • It does not disrupt customers’ workflow. That is, chatting with a live agent can be easily done in conjunction with other tasks and do not require the extra step of placing a phone call. This really fits the model of today’s technology users who are trying to accomplish multiple things with their computer.

One of the enhancements that I would desire as a customer is more feedback as to what the live agent is doing. Though the live agents ask you to wait while they are investigating the issue or query, better indicators as to how long this process would take would be beneficial. These status indicators could be automated and can be easily integrated with the chat engine. This way, the customer knows how long the process would take and what the chat agent is doing.

I also wonder about the usage statistics on live chat agents and whether this appeals only to certain demographics of the user population. For example, older adults may prefer having a conversation on the phone versus chatting on the computer.

Photo credit: David Vignoni via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 13, 2012

Human Factors and Ergonomics in India

The BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are projected to be the world’s largest and most influential countries by 2050. Undoubtedly, as these countries undergo advancements, several domains/industries would benefit from the application of human factors and ergonomics principles.

Agriculture has been the backbone of Indian economy and hence it was not surprising when I came across a paper written by Saran in 1968, which discussed the design of a grain harvester for agricultural work in India. Rather than imposing a design that required altering the working position and habits of the Indian farmer, a design that incorporated the habits and usage patterns of the Indian farmer are described in this paper.

Nearly four decades after Saran published his paper, Mukhopadhyay (2006) describes the state of ergonomics in India. He discusses how ergonomics can be applied to various industries such as:
  • Crafts (e.g., pottery making, jewellery making)
  • Agricultural tasks (e.g., harvesting, sowing)
  • Non-motorized transportation (e.g., rickshaws)

Mukhopadhyay discusses how successful ergonomic interventions in India would require raising awareness about ergonomics to the rural people.

How can we forget India’s IT sector? The operators working long shifts in the call centers to the software developers working on projects outsourced from other countries, the Indian IT industry would benefit from various human factors and ergonomic interventions. 

Last but not the least, increasing consumerism in India also offers a plethora of opportunities for human factors and ergonomics research, that would take into account the unique needs of this market.

Photo credit: Rdglobetrekker via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blogging on Division 21 talks from the American Psychological Association Annual Meeting – Use of Smart Phone Apps as Health Interventions

Dr. David Gustafson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison discussed how mobile phone apps can be used to help recovering alcoholics from relapsing by using virtual communities.

The advantages of the application include:
  • Use of GPS to detect whether the user is near a high risk location such as a liquor store and allow the user to get support. Specifically, a screen with options to call or text a friend comes up when the user is near a high risk location.
  • Capability to chat with individuals with addiction problems thereby gaining peer support.
  • Distance counseling via video chat.
  • Capability to complete weekly surveys: this information is used by the computer intelligence to detect relapses.
More details on Dr. Gustafson's work can be found here. A video on this app can be found here.
Photo credit: James Whatley via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Blogging on Division 21 talks from the 2012 American Psychological Association Annual Meeting: Technology and healthcare

Dr. Daniel Morrow from the University of Illinois discussed how technology can be used to improve the collaboration between health care providers and diabetes patients as well as to improve patients’ adherence to medications. The highlights from his talk are described below:

  • U.S. healthcare system assumes patients to be active, aware, and health literate.
  • Older adults with diabetes take an average of 4-5 medications per day.
  • Self-care imposes a lot of cognitive demands on the elderly. Think of the working memory demands associated with having to keep track of when each medication need to be taken.
  • Non-adherence to medications and inadequate plan for taking medications are problems. Nearly 30% of hospitalizations are linked to non-adherence.
  • Communication from health care providers is inadequate – often times, information provided to the elderly patients are poorly organized with no check as to whether the patients were able to accurately comprehend the information that was transmitted to them.
  • It is therefore important to reduce the cognitive load on the elderly patients and help them collaborate easily with their providers to plan their medication routine.

Dr. Morrow discussed the design of an EMR-based system called the Medtable to aid the elderly population. This system has 3 interfaces: a set up interface that would allow clinicians to set up patients’ medication list, a collaboration interface that would allow clinicians to reconcile medication information with patients and educate patients on the times they need to take medications, and finally a print-out interface that allows clinicians to provide a printout of the medication scheduling information to patients to take home. This system is under clinical investigation currently and the expectation is that this would improve patient outcomes by improving the collaboration between patients and health care providers and reducing the cognitive demand on the patients.

Photo credit: Ernes via Wikimedia Commons.