Last March 14th, in Washington D.C., USA, Frédéric Dehais, head of the Neuroergonomics and Human Factors research team, won the 2019 Commercial Aviation Safety Laureate awarded by the aeronautical journal, Aviation Week.The international aeronautics community recognized the quality, originality and multidisciplinarity of the research work carried out at the Department of Aerospace Vehicle Design and Control (DCAS).
This award, presented at the National Building Museum by the prestigious, century-old aeronautical journal, emphasized the key role played by this ISAE-SUPAERO laboratory in speeding up progress in our understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a pilot’s brain to improve air safety.
“Winning this award is a true recognition of our work by an entire community. We are very happy because, when you are working in your laboratory, you don’t think about the application phase in the field. This distinction shows that our work can have an impact on aeronautics. Neurosciences can help us to better understand pilots’ performances and to find new solutions for optimal air safety,” said Frédéric Dehais, just back from the United States.
Launched in 2004, this original work on the brain has raised some questions. Aviation Week is one of the first media to take an interest in the progress in research and the experiments developed by the French laboratory. Experiments in neuroergonomics and human factors combine studies on the real-time analysis of neurophysiological signals to identify borderline cognitive states in crew/operators, attentional tunneling, perseveration and fatigue. This research develops real-time crew monitoring methods and innovative systems for designing adaptive cockpits.
Artificial Intelligence in the service of aviation safety
Since 2015, Dr. Frédéric Dehais has held the AXA “Neuroergonomics for Flight Safety” Chair. This chair enables him to find financing to acquire equipment and to recruit graduate students and post-grads. In 2019, the team’s goal is to continue developing research on the link between neurosciences, man-machine relations and artificial intelligence.
“We are also working on a Plan d’Études Amont (Upstream Study Plan) for Man-Machine Timing (PEA MMT) with Thalès and Dassault. They wanted to work with us because we are able to perform in-flight experiments and because we have the strength of a multidisciplinary team at the DCAS. It includes specialists in flight mechanics, neurosciences, human factors and artificial intelligence. We have simulators and the Lasbordes platform, with aircraft and skilled pilots,” the professor in neurosciences added.
The human factors (HF) team uses machine learning and is developing algorithms that recognize stress and fatigue, predicting their effects. The researchers work on decision support systems, virtual electronic co-pilots that detect the pilot’s various states and adapt the cockpit and its interfaces accordingly. The aim is to reconfigure the interface to obtain a more intelligent cockpit. Algorithms are developed to help the pilot make the right decision. The system must be able to find the best-suited solution depending on the crew’s condition. For example, if the cockpit detects that audible alarms cannot be heard, it will be able to change methods and send a visual alarm signal and measure its effect. The goal is to work toward a more intelligent cockpit that adapts to the pilot. Neurofeedback is also a line of research. This consists in displaying the pilot’s level of stress and commitment in the cockpit so he can adjust more appropriately.
From the lab to in-flight experiments
The Vulcanair P-68 twin-engine airplane
Experiments in neurosciences start with basic manipulations in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The experimenters produce them on a flight simulator before installing them on board the Institute’s new flight platform, the Vulcanair P68 twin-engine airplane. With this plane, the results can be verified under real conditions of use. The algorithms tested in-flight gain in credibility. The team continues its experiments outside the lab to make progress in algorithmics and find new technologies to improve crew performances and the entire aviation chain. Thanks to this equipment and the presence of a wide range of skills, the research professors on the team, Raphaëlle Roy, Mickaël Causse, Sébastien Scannella and Vsevolod Peysakhovich, can work on neurostimulation, virtual reality, augmented reality, mental flexibility, neurofeedback, pilot training and the effects aging on the brain. Collaboration with Caroline Chanel at the DCAS makes it possible to integrate artificial intelligence and develop adaptive cockpits.
The P68 is part of the Achille experimental platform operated jointly with the École Nationale d’Aviation Civile (ENAC) and is used to interconnect all the simulators simultaneously.
“We could equip the ENAC air traffic controllers and the entire aviation chain with smart sensors. We will have intelligent algorithms to check the condition of the entire aviation system, the aircraft, the pilots, the air traffic controllers – and see how we can reconfigure all that, how to share authority, so that everyone can work together,” Frédéric Dehais predicted for the short term.
In a few months, the department will have a new building adapted to their research. It will comply with the latest regulations and to biomedical research standards. This will make it possible to make all the resources available in one place and to improve our international reputation by inviting world-class researchers to work on new experiments.
And there is no lack of ideas. Members of the team would like to work on space issues, install containment rooms and bring simulators here that are now in several other places.