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Pilots monitor fatigue with hat that measures brainwaves

Written by Nick Blenkey

smart capAUGUST 15, 2013 — Australian Reef Pilots (ARP), a pilotage company that provides licensed pilots for the Torres Strait and Great Barrier Reef, is trialing a baseball cap that monitors the wearer’s brain waves.

ARP Chief Pilot Roger Rusling models SmartCap and Readiband

Monitoring brain activity is a way of assessing fatigue levels and ARP CEO Simon Meyjes says the pilotage company is using the Australian-developed SmartCap system as another tool  to enhance ship, crew and environmental safety.

“Our use of the SmartCap is a world-first approach to address the issue of fatigue at sea. It looks like a simple baseball cap but is fitted with sophisticated sensors in the lining,” Mr Meyjes said. “These sensors monitor brainwaves (electroencephalographic or EEG) activity to accurately calculate the wearer’s level of drowsiness.”

The data are transmitted in real-time to a portable monitor or a blue-tooth enabled device such as a cell phone.

The wearer’s alertness is assessed on a 2 to 4 scale with an audible fatigue warning activated if the level reaches 3+ or higher. This notifies the wearer that a “micro sleep” episode may occur.

“This is a self-monitoring system enabling the SmartCap wearer to accurately determine how they’re coping on-the-job, signaling when it is time to take appropriate steps to manage fatigue,” Mr. Meyjes said. “Our trial has international implications for the maritime industry.”

The SmartCap was initially developed for mining and allied industries however ARP identified an opportunity to expand its use into a maritime environment.

Now, ARP and university fatigue experts are developing a scientific study program that will use SmartCaps along with Readibands (a watch that monitors wrist movements to determine quality of sleep) to undertake one of the most comprehensive maritime fatigue studies undertaken in Australia.

The research will be the first time both SmartCap and Readibands have been used in parallel to provide data effectively measuring the ability to perform in waking hours (SmartCap), as well as the quality of sleep achieved (Readiband).

SmartCap developer Dr. Dan Bongers said because fatigue is a significant threat in the maritime industry it seemed a natural fit to trial a technology that has been successfully deployed shoreside.

“The SmartCap is comfortable to wear and the sensors can read brainwave activity through hair, with no requirement for patches or scalp preparation. It’s not as intrusive as camera or response-based technologies can be,” says Dr. Bongers.

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