Air Traffic Controllers: Brain Monitoring to Keep Them Awake?

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Air traffic controllers, truck drivers, members of the military and anyone else whose lapse in concentration could put lives at risk could strap on a headband (or helmet) and be alerted when their brain activity indicates a drop in attention or alertness. They might hear a warning signal, or get a tactile alert, Jung said.

Technology More Ready Than Consumers

But he said that while the technology is almost ready, people might not be ready to accept it.

"One of the difficulties is people don't want to be watched," he said. "It's sort of like Big Brother watching you all the time."

He also said that he and his team are continuing to refine their technology to tease apart various internal and external factors, like a person's medication or outside power lines, that can generate electronic "noise" and make it more difficult to discern important signals.

Still, given the positive implications, he said, major organizations are interested in the research. His university has contracts with the Army, Navy and DARPA to study how brain-computer interfaces could help soldiers, he said.

And Jung and his team are not the only ones interested in blending the worlds of computing and neuroscience.

NeuroSky, a San Jose, Calif.-based company, already sells a wireless EEG headset that it says can be used for education and gaming.

The MindWave headset measures brainwave impulses from a person's forehead and can be used to gauge student attention levels during lessons, monitor daily mediation and play games that depend on a user's emotional control.

Tansy Brook, the head of communications for the company, said applications for people who work in hazardous work environments, such as air traffic controllers or construction workers, could be realized in the next five years.

"There's a general awareness you want people to have in those situations, they need to be paying attention every single second," she said. "There is amazing potential."

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