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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: January 17, 2006
No: 06-02

Augmented cognition technology to help warfighters handle information overload

NATICK, Mass. -- Scientists at the Natick Soldier Center (NSRDEC), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Honeywell Corporation are developing augmented cognition technology to solve the modern warfighter’s new and overwhelming problem: information overload.

According to Henry Girolamo, the NSRDEC DARPA agent for the Army’s Augmented Cognition Program, “Augmented cognition is a very important program for the Army because it will increase survivability and effectiveness. The technology we are developing will ultimately help warfighters when they are faced with information overload, especially under stress, and will significantly improve mission performance.”

Girolamo stated that DARPA and NSRDEC are managing a research team led by Honeywell Laboratories that will foster the development of prototype systems that can detect and measure a combatant’s cognitive state. The technology will assess the warfighter’s cognitive state and then influence the way information is sent to the warfighter. This capability will be integrated into communications, computer, and intelligence systems currently under development in the U.S. Army’s Future Force Warrior (FFW) program and other transformational warfighter systems.

Augmented cognition systems are expected to reduce warfighter stress by adjusting information management to the combatant based on his cognitive, physical, and emotional states as well as environmental conditions. The augmenting system features neuro-physiological sensors that assess the warfighter’s focus of attention. The sensors measure and record brain activity as well as physical responses, such as heart rate. Augmented cognition technology will help enhance the warfighter’s decision-making capabilities by helping the warfighter determine which information available to him is most important and to help him decide the best course of action in varying environments.

The system will be designed to adapt to the individual’s preferred learning style, such as whether the individual warfighter responds best to audio, visual, or tactile cues and instructions.

Augmented cognition technology may be designed to respond to the context in which the warfighter is operating. For example, if Soldiers are moving in a tactical line formation, the system could use this information along with brain signals to better determine the Soldier’s state of attention and readiness for receiving information and in the modality most useful to him or her.

The wireless system will primarily be a closed-loop system (i.e., internally self adaptive), which means the system will interpret the warfighter’s cognitive, emotional, and physical state and then prioritize information through the system for the warfighter.

The system may also be designed to be an open-loop system. Open-loop systems funnel information from the operator to someplace or someone else. This type of system provides decision-making tools to a commander or a medic, for example, to assist them in directing or helping the warfighter during mission execution. Open-loop technology is easier to design and can also allow the Soldier to obtain information, for example, from remote sensors on equipment so he or she will be aware if the equipment is functioning properly.

Related studies performed by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) have shown that sleep deprivation, exertion, hunger, and exposure to temperature extremes can reduce the warfighter’s ability to focus his attention and process information, which can lead to poor decision making. NSRDEC has also been exploring how humans process information while on the move and how this influences decisions and mission performance.

According to Dr. James Sampson, Human Factors Engineering Consultant, “Augmented cognition technology is the result of advances in neuroscience, computer technology, and neuro-psychology. Much research and engineering still needs to be done, but there is considerable promise in this technology for the military.” Furthermore, “in the future, it will be possible that this same technology will be used by the public at-large to manage information for a wide range of applications.”

For example, drivers may have such systems to help them be much more situationally aware as they attempt to negotiate unfamiliar and complex networks of highways.

The goal is to incorporate the technology into Future Force Warrior by 2007.

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This page last updated on 23 January 2004.