Army researchers have teamed up with the Tufts University School of Engineering to create the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, or Center for ABCs.
The center is co-directed by Dr. Caroline Mahoney, team leader for the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, cognitive science team, and Dr. Holly A. Taylor, a professor of psychology in Tufts’ School of Arts and Sciences who also has an appointment in mechanical engineering at Tufts.
“The new partnership between Tufts and NSRDEC will allow NSRDEC scientists opportunities to partner with Tufts faculty and students and utilize unique center resources,” Mahoney said. “It will also afford the opportunity for Tufts faculty, undergrad and grad students to gain further real-world experience working collaboratively with NSRDEC scientists to solve Soldier problems in specialized NSRDEC facilities, such as the climatic chambers, that are not available to them at the university.”
“This partnership will also extend the expertise available for innovative, collaborative projects for Tufts researchers and graduate students by involving the NSRDEC researchers,” Taylor said. “Interdisciplinarity is highly valued at Tufts already, and this center fits that emphasis.”
By bringing together experts in engineering, neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, computer science and robotics, the collaboration aims to advance researchers’ understanding of how people think, respond and perform in demanding, real-world situations. The center will ultimately provide insight into how Soldiers think in response to ever more complicated and challenging environments.
“Our objective at the cooperative center is to identify innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to monitoring Soldier physiological and mental states, predicting how those mental states influence operational behavior, and optimizing behavior via adaptive, multimodal interfaces and robotic platforms,” said Dr. Tad Brunyé, center program manager and member of NSRDEC’s cognitive science team. “This objective is accomplished through fundamental and applied interdisciplinary research to inform the design and development of next-generation support and augmentation systems, enhancing future Soldier capabilities and performance during kinetic operations.”
The center’s research will be divided into four areas.
The first area will examine the principles, which govern interactions between people and intelligent supporting systems.
“These include hand-held and person-borne devices [smart phones, head-mounted displays and tablets] and autonomous robotic platforms aimed at augmenting and optimizing human cognition, effect, and/or physical capabilities in mixed initiative teams,” Mahoney said.
The second area involves monitoring, characterizing and optimizing cognitive and non-cognitive states.
“Research efforts will focus on establishing and testing multimodal – physiological, neurophysiological, behavioral, hormonal – measures and metrics for monitoring and characterizing relevant cognitive and non-cognitive states such as frustration, mental workload, stress, readiness for problem-solving, fear, uncertainty and fatigue – cognitive and physical,” Mahoney said.
The third area involves studying ambulatory human performance of cognitive and physical tasks. The area will examine warfighters on the move engaged in environments based on real-world conditions and demands.
The fourth area of study will focus on applying cognitive science findings to team-based situations, which require interaction, communication and cohesiveness among team members.
Mahoney is excited about the center’s possibilities.
“The Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences is a tremendous opportunity for NSRDEC human sciences to pioneer a truly innovative environment that brings together a multidisciplinary group of world-renowned experts in the fields of cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, computer science, robotics, engineering, linguistics, and nutrition to push the state of the science on measuring, predicting and enhancing cognitive capabilities and human-system interactions for individuals and teams working in naturalistic high-stakes environments,” Mahoney said. “The research focus for the center is the dismounted Soldier, but certainly data and knowledge products developed will have the potential to make a significant impact on law enforcement, emergency first responders, and the medical community, as well.”
The Tufts School of Engineering is one of the eight schools and colleges that make up Tufts University. The school, located in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts, offers undergraduate and professional degrees in several fields of engineering and computer science.