From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Science Beyond Fiction: High-Tech Ergonomics

Machines and devices do our bidding every day at the press of a button, a tap on a screen or even a voice command. Imagine if they could think for us and do our bidding with just a thought. The recent Science Beyond Fiction show in Prague unveiled “thinking” steering wheels, “mind” music and other futuristic ideas that could be explored for ergonomic solutions to everyday risks and handicaps. 

Several technologies unveiled at the conference, the first of its kind, hold particular potential for ergonomics benefits. A BBC article highlighted technology that gives a car seat the capacity to adjust itself to the posture of the driver. Along the way, technology like this might be able to correct the posture of a driver—or even an office worker—to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The BBC article also noted a steering wheel that can sense if a driver is sleepy and open the window for a blast of fresh air. This idea opens the way for coordinating alarms and devices to increase alertness, not only in vehicles but in the levers, buttons and other controls in high-risk occupational settings. 

The same article pointed out that gaze tracking isn’t new, but applications seen at the conference take it into new directions. It was applied to tracking a person’s gaze and bringing into focus the area of a video being watched by blurring their peripheral vision. Taken further, the idea could see whole images planned left or right as the gaze approaches the edge of the screen. This direction holds promise for enhancing concentration and increasing efficiency in workplace tasks. 

The BBC and Red Orbit, a technology publication, highlighted the Multimodal Brain Orchestra, which made its debut appearance at the conference. The orchestra uses technology from the laboratory for Synthetic Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems (SPECS) to allow members to play musical instruments through Brain Computer Interface technology alone. The orchestra is led by an emotional conductor who leads by means of her physiological state. SPECS’ Brain Orchestra presented a piece called XMotion.  Paul Verschure, head of the project, told the audience: "… We can wonder what the mind and brain would be capable of if it would be directly interfaced to the world, bypassing the body."

The idea holds the potential for thought-navigated wheelchairs and neural implants that would help helping people disabled from spinal cord injury, for instance, and other profound handicaps to break down barriers at work and in their daily lives.

The European Commission (EC) is putting money behind the conviction that exploring the frontiers of science can be used to bring real benefits to society in the future. Any individual, institution or company based in Europe with a promising project can apply for EC funding.

Sources:  European Future Technologies Conference and Exhibition; BBC; Red Orbit