Norwich receives DARPA grant to study the effect of cockpit noise on pilots

Vermont Business Magazine Norwich University, in partnership with Spotlight Labs, has been awarded a three-year $371,000 Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to continue work on the Impact of Cockpit Electro-Magnetics on Aircrew Neurology (ICEMAN) project.

This grant will fund research on Phase II of the ICEMAN project after Norwich and Spotlight have completed Phase I of the study.

Phase I of the project, also funded by DARPA, allowed Spotlight to establish a research flight simulation laboratory at the University of Norwich. The lab consists of five computer workstations that mimic the flight of F-16 fighter jets, with components to collect data to assess pilot alertness, dexterity and performance. The lab uses software-integrated trackers and wearable technology to monitor biometrics, including eye blinks and reaction times, to assess pilot health and fatigue and determine if electromagnetic and radio frequency (EM/RF) ) affect pilot physiology during virtual missions.

The three-year grant is $1.5 million, of which Norwich’s share is $371,000. These funds will support psychology professors Kevin Fleming and Matthew Thomas. Research stipends for students will also be provided. Additional funding will further develop the capabilities of the lab allowing students to pilot team missions and monitor the coordination of their efforts. Researchers will also test SPYDR helmets — a helmet-mounted hypoxia sensor that collects human biometric data — to measure in-flight oxygen and heart rate variability, among other physiological variables.

“The Flight Simulation Lab has already provided students with a fantastic opportunity to hone their flight skills while learning about avionics and human factors research,” Fleming said. “We look forward to making this a permanent facility of the psychology department for our students most interested in becoming pilots.”

According to DARPA, the need stems from the conditions inside the cockpit. “The cockpits of today’s fighter aircraft are awash with radio frequency (RF) noise from onboard emissions, communications links and navigation electronics, including strong electromagnetic (EM) fields from audio headsets and technology. helmet tracking.”

Military pilots have reported cognitive performance issues during flights. It is thought that radio frequency and electromagnetic fields in the aircraft cockpit could affect cognitive performance, possibly causing task saturation, poor prioritization, complacency, and spatial disorientation.

The ICEMAN project aims to determine whether the electromagnetic environment of the combat cockpit influences the performance of the pilot’s cognitive and/or physiological sensors and to provide feasible mitigation techniques. DARPA also reports that electromagnetic fields and radio waves in cockpits are currently not monitored. Little effort has been made to protect pilots from these fields and the potential impacts on cognition have not been evaluated.

Dr. Brian Bradke, a former US Air Force pilot and F-16 pilot instructor and professor at Norwich University, is chief operating officer and executive vice president of Spotlight Labs, an analytics company and human performance sensors owned by armed forces veterans.

“Spotlight Labs is incredibly thrilled to partner with Norwich University and NUARI for this exciting work,” Bradke said. “As a fighter pilot, I often wondered how electromagnetic radiation or other environmental hazards could impact pilots, passengers and aircrew. The airborne environment is quite unique, and it is important that we fully characterize the physiological and cognitive effects it has on the human system. Only then can we implement strategies and invent new technologies to mitigate these effects, leading to healthier crews that are more efficient and effective in completing their missions. Renowned psychology experts from the Norwich Department of Psychology, led by Dr Kevin Fleming, are a welcome addition to Spotlight’s team of engineers, physiologists and data scientists. I really expect to see some amazing developments as the project unfolds over the next two years.

Spotlight Labs is headquartered in Haddonfield, New Jersey, and has an engineering and flight test center in Berlin, Vermont.

The ICEMAN project aims to:

1) Measure and manipulate ambient electromagnetic field and radio frequency noise in a typical cockpit.

2) To measure the potential effects of these electromagnetic stimuli on brain activity, physiology, behavioral responses and physiological sensing systems.

3) Demonstrate potential strategies to mitigate adverse effects on aircrew neurology and sensor functioning.

During the second phase of the project, work will focus on the development of a next-generation sensor suite capable of measuring ambient electromagnetic/radiofrequency conditions in a military aircraft cockpit environment. The objectives of the Phase II experiment will be to identify any impacts of electromagnetic/radio frequency cockpit conditions that negatively affect pilot cognitive function or physiological sensor function and to develop and test various mitigation strategies to protect against these effects.

Norwich University is a diverse academic institution that trains students and adults of traditional age in a cadet corps and as civilians. Norwich offers a wide selection of traditional and distance learning programs leading to bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the United States Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of six senior military colleges in our country and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). www.norwich.edu

NORTHFIELD, Vermont — University of Norwich 05/16/2022

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