B2: Learning Environments with Augmentation and Robotics for Next-gen Emergency Responders (LEARNER) Grant uri icon


  • The NSF Convergence Accelerator supports use-inspired, team-based, multidisciplinary efforts that address challenges of national importance and will produce deliverables of value to society in the near future. The broader impact and potential societal benefits of this Convergence Accelerator Phase II project will be to generate technology-based learning solutions that can support and augment the performance and safety of emergency response (ER) personnel. Academic researchers, core-technology developers, stakeholders, and an advisory board constituted of leaders from industry and government will come together to assess opportunities and challenges related to the use of human augmentation technologies (HATs) that can transform the process of foundational, use-inspired solution-finding for ER work, and in a way that is transferable to other work contexts as well. This will involve the development and evaluation of LEARNER (Learning Environments with Augmentation and Robotics for Next-gen Emergency Responders), a mixed-reality learning environment with physical, augmented, and virtual reality components, for users to learn to work effectively with two HAT classes: powered exoskeletons (EXO) and head-worn AR interfaces (AR). Our effort will contribute to better conceptualize convergence work that can foster the understanding of reciprocal human-technology interactions; contribute to systems that are tailored, optimized, and continuously adapted for humans and their environments; and education and lifelong learning to create the requisite workforce. Our effort will also serve as a model for other research communities that can benefit from working across traditional disciplinary boundaries in engineering, computer science, learning sciences, and human resource development. We will share our methods, learnings and findings with the ER community and the wider world by leading a National Talent Ecosystem Council, a collaborative think-tank organization, to support scientific research activities on workforce learning with advanced technologies and organizing Learn-X symposiums on the topic of technology-driven advances in learning-sciences and educational/human resource development. We will develop and evaluate a functional prototype of LEARNER – an innovative accessible, modular, personalized, and scalable learning platform to accelerate skilling and reskilling of ER workers, particularly on nascent augmentation technologies that have significant potential to change the very nature of work and improve efficiency, health, and well-being. LEARNER will provide a unique training paradigm by incorporating physiological, neurological, and behavioral markers of learning into real-time scenario evolution. The proposed virtual and physical user interfaces and interaction techniques will advance the human-computer interaction field by providing a multisensory approach for ER simulation and synchronized virtual interactions with physical environments and work artifacts. Furthermore, our plan to field these HATs and develop an effective learning platform has significant transformative potential as EXOs and AR will enable users to formulate new work strategies at the individual and team levels enabled by their newly extended physical and perceptual capabilities. Finally, our work will advance learning by creating a scalable and replicable platform that will increase the speed of integration and adoption of innovative and emerging HATs that benefit the future workforce across diverse industrial sectors. Our transdisciplinary approach converges and enhances the existing knowledge from the disciplines of learning science, computer science, virtual and augmented realities, human factors, cognitive psychology, and systems engineering to create the LEARNER platform that integrates training course design, innovative and emerging technology implementation, and new techniques of work. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • 2020 - 2022