FW-HTF-RM: Augmenting Spatial Cognition Capabilities of Future Workforce to Enhance Work Performance in Altered Environments Using Virtual Reality
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The goal of this research is to enable the future workforce to work in unfamiliar environments, including desolate hard to reach places such as: deep space, low Earth orbit, deep ocean, and polar regions. The research team will introduce a new cost-effective educational platform combining Virtual Reality (VR), Eye Tracking and electroencephalography (EEG). This platform will inform design principles for scenario-based simulations and games to train the future workforce to adapt to and work in altered environments. The main goal is to understand how spatial cognitive processing differs in altered gravitational and visual environments, and how VR-based simulation can accelerate training the nation''s future workforce to adapt to such environments. The research team integrates the principles of information modeling, VR, fixation analysis, EEG, and aerospace engineering to conduct the proposed research on spatial cognitive processing in altered conditions.Specifically, the research team will address how, and to what extent, the non-alignment of visual and idiotropic frames of reference (FOR) and a lack of visuospatial cues offered by familiar landmarks influence spatial abilities, fixation patterns, and brain functions. This study will: (1) measure spatial abilities through behavioral tests, and contrast scores and reaction time in simulated normal and altered environments; (2) measure and analyze cognitive strategies and mental workload using eye tracking and electroencephalography (EEG) and contrast results in simulated normal and altered environments; and (3) apply the results of spatial abilities, attentional allocation, and mental workload to create the framework of a simulation or game to train the future workforce to work in altered conditions.The proposed research will lead to inventing, evaluating, and applying innovative methods and tools that use VR, eye tracking and EEG to design scenario-based simulations and games for workforce training. This study will create new knowledge in the behavioral and physiological domains of cognitive science leading to a better understanding of spatial cognitive processing in altered environments. The broader impacts of this work include developing a unique, safer, and cost-effective approach to train workers using virtual analogs and augment their spatial abilities to enhance their safety, quality of work life, productivity, and potential for more people to participate in the future workforce. Broader impacts also include developing educational course content and increased mentoring of underrepresented student groups. Educational activities include a strong outreach program for K-12 and college students to increase their participation in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), inform them about the future of work in altered conditions, and explain how a human-technology frontier can bolster spatial cognitive performance.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.