FW-HTF-RM: The Future of Teleoperation in Construction Workplaces Grant uri icon


  • This Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) research project will advance fundamental knowledge in the discipline of "smart construction". Construction is a work domain in which workers often struggle with the cognitive "data overload" problem that emerges when they are required to attend to multiple sensory stimuli at the same time. Visual stimuli place a high demand on selective attentional resources that limit the utility of each additional visual data display. The specific research objective of this project is to develop an alternative - an electrotactile warning system that alerts excavator operators about the location / proximity of unseen buried hazards. Excavator operators face serious risks when working around buried utilities, including the risk of damaging utility lines, which can result in costly consequences to society such as disrupting essential services, serious injuries, and even death. Whereas previous efforts to mitigate the likelihood of an accident have focused on providing additional information to workers via visual displays, this can cause a cognitive "data overload" that can reduce performance and increase stress at work. Further, workers are often resistant to adopting the new technology. This project will promote the progress of science and advance national prosperity through the user-centered development of an electrotactile system capable to augment excavator operator spatial awareness and performance in construction workplaces. The findings from this project have important implications for reducing excavation damage to critical infrastructure systems that are essential for the functioning of society. The multidisciplinary approach will help broaden career development opportunities for participating students, including women and minority students. This project will directly engage construction workers in a set of four tasks that seek to improve the spatial awareness of excavator operators using technology that can provide intuitive spatial data on buried hazards. The project plans proprietary excavator sensor technologies that can localize subterranean targets, as well as electrotactile operator display technologies that can communicate these data to the worker. The first task leverages user-centered design techniques to document task features, worker roles and needs, and risks associated with excavation work. The second task develops a telerobotic control framework that provides intuitive real-time feedback of buried utilities to operators for enhancing spatial awareness of those hazards. The third tests the supplemental feedback system in a virtual reality environment, while the fourth tests the system in real-world testbeds. In addition, the research promises to provide a framework for technology adoption policy, detailing the risks and benefits of introducing new technologies into emerging socio-technological landscapes where workers are challenged by phased adoption of technologies and inconsistencies in interface configurations between different tasks and different work environments. 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

  • 2021 - 2023