In operational environments that demand sustained vigilance or that involve multiple tasks competing for limited attentional resources, continuous monitoring of the mental state of the operator could decrease the potential for serious errors and provide valuable information concerning the ergonomics of the tasks being performed. There is widespread discussion and appreciation of the basic feasibility of utilizing neurophysiological measurements to derive accurate, reliable, rapid and unobtrusive assessments of mental state. However, progress in transitioning this idea into practical applications has been impeded by the fact that at present no convenient, inexpensive and effective means exists to derive a meaningful index of brain activity outside of laboratory settings. In this paper, we review some recent advances in recording technology and signal processing methods that will help overcome this limitation. For example, rapid progress is being made in the engineering of recording systems that are small, rugged, portable and easy-to-use, and thus suitable for deployment in operational environments. Progress is also being made in the development of signal processing algorithms for detecting and correcting recording artifacts and for increasing the amount of useful information that can be derived from brain signals. Finally, results from basic research studies suggest that accurate and reliable inferences about the mental load and alertness of an individual can be derived from neurophysiological measures in a practical fashion. These research and engineering successes suggest that it is reasonable to expect that in the near term a basic enabling technology will be deployed that will permit routine measurement of brain function in operational environments. © 1995.
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