Computer simulation” and “psychologist” are not terms usually used in the same sentence. But one company is trying to fuse the two via cognitive science.
The goal is to optimize human performance in high-risk industries and high-stress environments where the opportunity for error is high, said Jeff Beaubien, head of medical and healthcare systems at Aptima.
The firm, based in Woburn, Mass., specializes in “human-centered engineering,” which seeks to solve the problems of human performance by creating simulations that are tailored to a user’s strengths and weaknesses.
With human-centered engineering, “we try to achieve a fit between the group, its culture, the processes and technology involved,” said Beaubien.
Aptima has developed programs for defense, government and private sector clients to help those groups improve overall team performance. To accomplish this, psychologists interview the client to find out what they need to do, in what conditions and with what information, Beaubien explained. For example, they will take into account the computer savviness of the group and where the program will be used, he said.
Psychologists identify group skills and needs, and then the company’s software engineers build the actual simulation. Once a client has used the program, Aptima gives the trainees feedback based on their areas of weakness. Users are then encouraged to use the training again and again to improve their skills. “We like to think of the training programs as an event that people will go through many times,” Beaubien said.
One program created for military medical personnel is called the expeditionary military medical team training, or T-TRANE. The web-based course prepares medical personnel for deployments by combining individual and group exercises, Beaubien said. Each participant completes an individual test on his own and then joins the virtual environment to practice a simulated team exercise.
T-TRANE can bring together geographically separated medics and allow them to work as a team on the Internet.
The Air Force Research Laboratory funded the program under a small business innovative research grant, Beaubien said. The system has not yet been fielded, but Aptima is looking for partners to help with commercialization.
The company has also created human-centered programs for combat training, disaster response and fighter aircraft teams.
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