NASA Langley Research Center scientists Alan Pope and Chad Stephens, along with high school intern Nina Blanson, have invented technology to inject stress levels into video games’ controls so that the nervous or stressed shooter is aiming a moving gun at a moving target. The technology, called “Mindshift,” includes a sensor attached to the player’s earlobe, checking the pulse and wired into the control. Sensors also can be attached to the forehead, seeking the facial muscle strain that is a sign of stress, or attached to the player’s partner to inject a social variable into game play, requiring teamwork between the two players.

NASA scientist Alan Pope in his laboratory. (Sean Smith)
The project yielded its first product in the early 1990s, when NASA research intended for pilots and air traffic controllers was licensed to SmartBrain Technologies, which used it in working with children afflicted with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Pope had developed closed-loop technology to interject brainwave indicators of boredom into a flight simulator’s control so that the degree of automation — such as an autopilot — was diminished when attention waned. The pilot was re-engaged by a less-automated airplane.

That purpose acknowledges that pilots and air traffic controllers are in stressful vocations, and that they can better fly or tell a pilot where and how to fly if that stress is controlled. And it maintains that control comes from within, after it’s detected through monitoring and altered through training.

On a computer screen in the Operator Characterization and Performance Investigations (OCAPI) Laboratory at Langley, a multi-tasking research software application called the NASA LaRC MATB-II, provides a joystick-controlled tracking task, fuel tank levels to monitor, status indicators to consider, and audio input from a control tower — in all, four dynamic tasks, each of which could be more or less automated to induce levels of stress, fatigue, boredom, and other hazards of flying. In another demonstration, on a video screen in front of him, a player’s swing at a ball was modulated by the stress felt by that player. With modulation of in-game audio added, feedback is twofold. Essentially, the player learns how to control stress through removing impediments to enjoying playing the game.

“Our hope is that embedding beneficial, helpful biofeedback in everyday activities will be a valuable contribution to society,” said Pope. “People, while they’re doing their leisure activities, will be improving their health at the same time.”

For more information, and to view a Mindshift demo, visit www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/mindshift.html.

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