Monday, October 15, 2012

Using Facial EMG to detect a loss of situation awareness

Situation awareness is a term that is widely used in the human factors community. The term is used to denote one’s comprehension or understanding of the environment in which one is working. Studying this construct is important because loss of situation awareness is considered responsible for performance failures in several safety-critical domains. For example, air traffic controllers who are unaware that a loss of separation is happening is more likely to be involved in more severe operational errors.

Various techniques to measure situation awareness exist. For example, objective measures uses accuracy and time to respond to queries as a way of inferring operator situation awareness. Subjective measures rely on feedback from an expert or self-ratings to determine situation awareness. Finally, implicit performance measures are also used and that involves embedding events into scenarios that would require operators to exhibit specific behaviors.

More recently, Dr. Frank Durso and colleagues published an article in the Journal of Human Factors, wherein they discuss how facial EMG can be used to detect loss of situation awareness (or confusion).

The experimental set up was such that the participants in the experimental condition listened to a passage and were asked to raise their index finder when they heard something that did not make sense to them. Participants in the control condition raised their finger when they heard an animal being mentioned. Four facial muscles (near the left and right and left eyebrows, the mandiable, and the cheek) were recorded using EMG while participants listened to the passages.

Key takeaways from the article:
  • EMG traces detected confusion in all the participants who reported that they were confused and also in 6 participants who did not report any confusion. This shows that facial EMG is a better detector of loss of situation awareness than self-report measures.
  • The facial muscles near the eyebrows were the most effective in detecting confusion.

 Photo credit: FASTILY via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Vest that Hugs!

This article describes a vest that Facebook users can wear, which gives users a hug whenever they receive a ‘like’ to their status updates on Facebook. The hug is simulated by the inflation of the vest. The users can also give a hug back to the sender by deflating the vest.

The perceived advantage of this vest is that it allows people to be close irrespective of physical boundaries.   

A few aspects to consider when converting this prototype to a product (Note that the integration with Facebook has not occurred yet):
  • Do users want to be hugged by everyone who likes their status updates or just a select few of their friends and family?
  • Do users want to be hugged for each and every status update that they do? That seems a little ridiculous. So, what should be the criteria? Perhaps users should have the flexibility to set this option.
  • Do users want to be hugged in all social settings?
  • Should users be hugged when they are performing critical tasks such as driving? The vest can be a source of distraction.

Photo credit: Enoc vt via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ehealth and Older Adults

Today’s article from The New York Times examines the ehealth benefits for older adults.  

Highlights from the article:
  • 53% of Americans 65 and older use the Internet or email but after age 75, internet use drops to 34%.
  • Fear of computers and smartphones, problems with vision and hearing, cognitive declines, limited finances, lack of learning opportunities are considered to be the reasons why older adults are not as interfaced with technology.
  • Agencies such as the National Institute on Aging and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine are working to help older adults learn and use technology.
  • Lots of medical services are becoming available online and older adults can benefit a lot from this.
  • Ehealth sites can help older adults make informed decisions about their heath, communicate with their physicians, be independent, identify the best Medicare options, find nutritional recipes, and order prescriptions online, to name a few.
  • Employ good design principles (that takes into consideration the vision and cognitive declines associated with aging) when designing websites for the elderly. This website provides a list of design principles. Some of the key principles from the website include:
1.      Organize information into short, meaningful sections.
2.      Present the key information first.
3.      Avoid lengthy paragraphs.
4.      Use active voice.
5.      Minimize scrolling.
6.      If instructions involve more than one step, number the steps.
7.      Minimize the use of technical jargon.
8.      Use single mouse clicks.
9.      Use 12- or 14-point type size, and make it easy for users to enlarge text.
10.  Use high-contrast color combinations.
11.  Provide a speech function to hear text read aloud.

Check out the ehealth site developed by the National Institute on Aging, which incorporates these web design principles. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What a Cool Thermostat!

Nest, a Silicon Valley startup company, has announced that they will be releasing their next generation thermostat later this month. More details about the thermostat can be found here.
Some of the ‘cool’ features of this thermostat from a human factors and ergonomics perspective include:

  • Sleek design: The new model is slimmer.
  • Adjustability via Apps: Through iPhone and Android apps, users can adjust the temperature settings even when they are away from their homes.
  • Automation support: If the thermostat detects that there are no individuals in the house (uses sensors to detect presence), it has the capability to adjust the temperature settings to reduce unnecessary heating and cooling. This way, users don’t have to remember to adjust the thermostat to conserve energy when going out.

Photo credit: grantsewell via Wikimedia Commons