Akane Sano receives NSF award to shape human-technology partnership for well-being of shift workers.
People around the world are constantly searching for ways to work smarter and be healthier. There are industries where a majority of work is done outside of normal business hours. Approximately 20% of the labor force engages in shift work, which often leads to inadequate and poor sleep.
Being out of synch with one's natural body clock, or circadian rhythm, can lead to many complications over time, including a higher likelihood for cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, and mental health problems. In addition, there can be serious deficits in cognitive performance, with productivity loss and more accidents in the workplace.
With project funding from the National Science Foundation
(NSF), ECE assistant professor Akane Sano and researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Cornell University, Harvard Medical School, Baylor College of Medicine, and Microsoft Research are developing an embodied Intelligent Cognitive Assistant (e-ICA) to monitor a user's circadian rhythm, alertness, and stress levels.
The device will also be able to provide feedback and behavioral suggestions to the user in order to improve their cognitive abilities, performance, sleep, and overall well-being. The e-ICA will aim to be unobtrusive and aid in giving the wearer real-time specific actions they might take to improve their cognitive abilities.
The study will use both laboratory settings and situational work environments, starting first with medical residents and other health practitioners. These health practitioners generally work long, overnight shifts, and need to be in the best possible cognitive place in order to effectively do their jobs. The end goal of the project is to make this technology available to everyone, including people with social jetlag.
Social jetlag occurs when a person goes to bed and wakes up later on the weekends than they do on weekdays. This is associated with poor health, worse mood, and increased sleepiness and fatigue. Also, each hour of social jetlag translates to an 11-percent increase in the likelihood of heart disease.
This technology has the potential to impact a wide range of workers and firms. In addition, the anonymized data and information about developed hardware and software will be shared in the community.
"We are excited to build an intelligent closed-loop system which helps improving cognitive performance, sleep, and well-being," Sano said. She also added that she "hope[s] that this system ultimately leads to improved productivity and health within individuals, organizations, and nations."
The NSF is is investing over $25 million in 26 projects to advance the cognitive and physical capabilities of workers in the context of human-technology interactions. These new awards will address critical social, technical, educational and economic needs in the workplace. The Future of Work at the Human- Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) is one of 10 new Big Ideas for Future Investment announced by the NSF. The FW-HTF cross-directorate program aims to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the changing landscape of jobs and work by supporting convergent research. This award fulfills part of that aim.