About half of airline pilots in the United States will be set to retire in the next 15 years, exacerbating what is already a shortage of professionals, the Regional Airlines Association reports. But what if there was a way to improve pilot training to get qualified pilots in place sooner, at lower cost, and to ensure that all effectively receive the basic training needed before their careers take flight?
Training complex cognitive skills, such as airplane piloting, requires long training sessions. The skill acquisition process is most effective when the learner is ready and committed to the task that matches their current abilities. If the current task is too difficult or too easy, it can lead to unnecessary overtraining or insufficient undertraining, discouraging the learner and potentially leading to a lack of acquired skills.
“Measures of a learner’s brain function during training can be combined with behavioral performance measures to provide a more comprehensive assessment of learner progress and these can be used throughout training to personalize and optimize the process,” said Hasan Ayaz, PhD, associate professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Health Sciences and Systems. “However, measuring brain function continuously in large-scale, hands-on learning settings was not possible until recently. The latest generation of portable and mobile neuroimaging modality, functional near-infrared spectroscopy sensors offer new opportunities for both cognitive workload and operator training assessment, in continuous natural environments.
Thus, the Ayaz team developed a closed-loop training protocol that captures a learner’s brain activity to tailor training to an individual based on their brain activity and performance, in a process known as neuroadaptive training. In this preliminary study of young adults, in collaboration with Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratory program manager Matthias Ziegler, the team tested neuroadaptive training in a four-session, two-week test series with simulator scenarios. realistic flights.
The results, recently published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroergonomicssuggest that fNIRS-informed training can improve how we assess the individual performance of mission-critical workers.
In the study, two groups of young adults between the ages of 20 and 28 participated in a series of four-session, two-week tests to practice realistic scenarios on flight simulator software including flying, landing, situational awareness and other aspects of piloting. . As participants performed these tasks, their brain activity was continuously captured with fNIRS headband sensors positioned over the prefrontal cortex and informed of training progress. The neuroadaptive group’s training protocol was adapted to each session, based on their mental workload derived from brain activity and their performance in the previous session. Those who underwent neuroadaptive training showed higher levels of performance, reached harder levels sooner, and performed better than those in a control group who underwent traditional behavioral training in which participants achieve a more difficult task once they have completed the previous one.
“We propose to monitor participants throughout the training, continuously assess their cognitive workload, and modify task difficulty to maximize learning as efficiently as possible,” Ayaz said. “This is a new way to use brain science and neuroimaging to improve the learning process. We adapt the scenarios according to the brain activity of individuals in a closed loop, in accordance with neuroergonomics.
Such tests, Ayaz argues, are especially important in critical tasks, like surgery, aviation, and other professions where every second counts and lives are at stake. It can also be used in lower-stakes times. or in typical daily tasks.
“Advances and complexity in technology have made training a time-consuming and difficult task,” Ziegler said. “Dr. Ayaz’s work to personalize training based on brain activity, thereby reducing training time and increasing success rate, is an exciting advance in neuroscience-assisted training that has the potential to reshape how our workforce develops its skills.
The burgeoning field of neuroergonomics research uses wearable neurotechnologies and integrates both theory and applications to advance our understanding of the brain with practical implications in various sectors such as health, education, transportation, manufacturing, entertainment, communication and many other aspects of daily life.
Ayaz, in collaboration with Frédéric Dehais, PhD, professor at ISAE-SUPAERO, in Toulouse, France, and his colleagues organized the series of international conferences on neuroergonomics in 2016, to discuss this emerging field, with the next conference from July 28 to August 1, 2022 in New York.
Editor’s Note: The authors note that fNIR Devices, LLC manufactures the optical brain imaging instrument and intellectual property and know-how under license from Drexel University. Ayaz helped develop the technology and has a minor stake in the company. The study was supported by Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories.