IARPA Funds Project To Track Worker Productivity with Sensors

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A new study aims to understand the impact stress has on worker performance.

The connected system known as the internet of things might soon include human employees as part of its network. 

An intelligence community-funded research project aims to use wearable sensors to track worker productivity, and two University of Minnesota professors are joining the project to better understand how stress impacts job performance. 

Deniz Ones and Mustafa al'Absi, professors of psychology and behavioral medicine, respectively, are part of a team from six universities developing out mPerf, a $13.8 million effort to use sensors and software to examine employee behavior. That program is part of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the intelligence community's research and development unit, and its Multimodal Objective Sensing to Assess Individuals with Context project, known as MOSAIC for short.

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One research goal is to learn how high-stress situations could affect an employee's decision-making skills. The MOSAIC project intends to use sensors to evaluate employee characteristics because questionnaires and interviews might not always accurately reflect their behavior under pressure.

Insights from the MOSAIC project could help IARPA understand a person's "psychological drivers, cognitive abilities, and mental wellness and resilience," allowing hiring managers to "select the right person for the right job, evaluate and help maintain optimal performance throughout their career," and eventually "anticipate changes in an individual that may impact their work effectiveness, productivity, and overall health and wellness," according to a broad agency announcement

A set of sensors that passively monitor the wearers as they go about their jobs might also help employers understand what causes worker burnout and anxiety, according to the BAA. 

Researchers from the University of Memphis, Ohio State, Cornell, University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of California at Los Angeles are also participating.