Smart hat monitors brain waves to watch fatigue levels

I just read an interesting article in Gizmag, an online technology newsletter, about an unreleased product called the SmartCap from Australian company EdanSafe. The SmartCap is worn as a cap and analyzes brainwaves to ascertain fatigue levels, one obvious use case being to monitor commercial drivers to reduce road accidents.

The SmartCap uses scalp contacts (no saline gel or other scalp "prep" is required) to pickup the signals generated by neural activity and the company's proprietary algorithm, the "Universal Fatigue Algorithm," determines how fatigued the wearer appears to be.

Essentially what the SmartCap is doing is electroencephalography or EEG ... "the recording of electrical activity along the scalp [which] shows oscillations at a variety of frequencies. Several of these oscillations have characteristic frequency ranges, spatial distributions and are associated with different states of brain functioning (e.g., waking and the various sleep stages)."

There are six recognized frequencies that can be detected: Alpha (8Hz to 13Hz), Beta (>13Hz to 30Hz), Gamma (30Hz to >100Hz), Delta (up t0 4Hz), Theta (4Hz to 8Hz), and Mu (8Hz to 13Hz).

Each band and the location(s) where the signals are detected indicate different general mental states.

For example, an Alpha rhythm is indicative of a relaxed and meditative frame of mind and is detected in the "posterior regions of head, both sides, higher in amplitude on dominant side" while a Beta rhythm is found on "both sides, [with] symmetrical distribution, most evident frontally" and characterized by "low amplitude waves" when "alert [and] working ... active, busy or anxious thinking, active concentration."

The "traditional" problem with EEG measurements has been that the signals detected by scalp electrodes aren't strong even when you have an electrically "quiet" environment and really sophisticated (as in "expensive") equipment.

But the the advent of sophisticated and cheap signal processing allows less than optimal signals to be, for want of a better term, "intelligently" filtered to remove electrical noise and detect meaningful signals.

The SmartCap has an electronics module called the "Fatigue Processor card," (a term that I think is slightly ridiculous ... rather like calling a spade "an implement for digging compacted mineral material") that attaches to custom designed caps with embedded electrodes that the company's literature implies simply touch the wearer's scalp.

The data from the Fatigue Processor card is communicated to a control unit via Bluetooth and, according to EdanSafe's online description, the data can be recorded for later analysis or sent in real-time to a monitoring center.

The concept is good based, as it is, on the issue of road safety for commercial drivers. On the other hand you have to wonder how long it will be before the first lawsuit appears where drivers claim discrimination based on their imputed alertness.

The SafeCap system is, it is claimed, in trials with a mining company in Australia and the system is supposed to be available sometime this year.

So, what if you want to experiment with this kind of technology? Surprise! I have just the system for you but you're going to have to wait until next week to wrap your head around it ... or maybe that should be have it wrap around your head.

Gibbs is showing serious relaxation in Ventura, Calif. Your signals to gearhead@gibbs.com.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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