Translating Atlas Copco’s Cognitive Ergonomics Toolkit For Remote Cognitive Load Assessments

Biondi, Francesco | $25,000

Ontario University of Windsor 2021 SSHRC

COVID‑19 has thrown a wrench in the workings of many industries, with companies being forced to move previous office-based operations to remote workplaces. While 82% of the Canadian workforce worked from the office pre-COVID-19, this is now down to 27% (PWC Canada, 2020). Among the industries hit hardest by this erratic reshuffling is manufacturing (PWC, 2020) wherein COVID‑19 has impacted both product assembly and design. Atlas Copco is a leading equipment designer and manufacturer whose core business encompasses the development of safe and easy-to-use production supporting systems for the automotive industry. In recent years, as the manufacturing process has become more automated (Frank et al., 2019), the effective use of manufacturing workstations in companies like Atlas Copco has paradoxically come to rely less on the physical abilities and more on the cognitive capacities of the human operator. Error-inducing conditions like high cognitive load, wherein the demand of the job exceeds the operator’s cognitive capacity, now represent growing causes of distraction-induced work accidents (Bonsang & Caroli, 2021). Atlas Copco recently worked with the principal investigator to develop the Cognitive Ergonomics toolkit, a novel assessment methodology that helps minimize the cognitive burden of newly-designed products. In early testing the toolkit metrics, which require the recording of data via scientific-grade equipment, proved accurate in measuring dynamic changes in cognitive load. Yet the metrics anachronistically relied on intrusive contact sensors and the physical co-presence of the operator and the designer, conditions that are made impossible in a remote testing environment.

The COVID-19-induced displacement of workforce and clients to remote locations has created an urgent need for Atlas Copco to develop expertise conducting accurate remote assessments of next-generation manufacturing interfaces. Thus the overall goal of this project is to translate the Cognitive Ergonomics toolkit from one that requires a physical co-presence to one that Atlas Copco can adopt for remote assessments. The applicants have already developed preliminary software that is necessary to record selected cognitive load metrics that does not rely on intrusive sensors or physical co-presence (HSLab, 2021). However, given the exploratory nature of this work, it requires further development and testing to fully enable the use of the toolkit in virtual assessments. To achieve this, our objectives are to:

1. Complete the development of the software for remote cognitive load measurement. We will build on our preliminary work wherein we scripted the initial algorithm for measuring selected cognitive load metrics, to develop the software capable of recording toolkit metrics during remote cognitive load assessments.

2. Determine the Cognitive Ergonomics toolkit’s accuracy during remote assessments. We will recruit Atlas Copco employees to test the accuracy of the new toolkit metrics software in tracking cognitive load during the use of Atlas Copco’s interfaces.

This project will advance the field of Cognitive Ergonomics by enabling the accurate measurement of cognitive load using less intrusive metrics that rely on ubiquitous, readily available sensors. The development of the remote toolkit will help Atlas Copco conduct Cognitive Ergonomics assessments of their automotive manufacturing interfaces, an approach that can be extended to the design of Atlas Copco aerospace and electronics products. The development of the toolkit also holds the promise of providing a novel approach for accurate cognitive load assessment, and minimizing the mental burden and related injuries of using newly-designed manufacturing products.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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