Science promises greater objectivity in Aviation Fatigue Safety Risk measurement

[Samsung and Ability Wearables heart rate monitor]
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Civil Aviation established set of rules addressing pilot fatigue

Military research is designing a Smartwatch to warn pilots about fatigue

Swiss research developing a similar measuring wearable

Civil aviation has struggled with Fatigue experienced by pilots, AMTs and flight attendant. The FAA led a global CAA effort to create state-of-the-art safety rules and finally issued a new Part 117 to guide airlines in dealing with this problem. The tools defined in that final rule are being applied to the cockpit and soon to other safety critical positions:

FAA says that Fatigue Management is coming to Aviation Maintainer

EMT pilot fatigue issues should have triggered some preventative action by Boston MedFlight

FSF reveals new Fatigue Research on Controlled Rest

Another Study questions Controller Scheduling Safety, but the FAA already knows Fatigue; what’s up?

NBAA, IBAC & FSF Should be COMMENDED for Initiating advances in safety

Here are two promising advances which may increase objectives measurements of a physiological condition which is a amorphous phenomenon.

Smartwatches Could Help Air Force Pilots, Crew Recognize Dangerous Fatigue

24 Oct 2019 | By Oriana Pawlyk

Work-related burnout is a national problem. But when it comes to military aviation, it can be deadly.

For the last few years, Air Force Maj. Alexander Criss has pursued a mission to get more rest for pilots and crew heading out for operations across the globe. And that has led to the development of a smartwatch app that aims to help pilots and crew understand their bodies’ rhythms and when they’re most drowsy.


Through his research, Criss found that more than half of mobility pilots — 53% — were flying “during this window when their body thinks they should be sleeping.”



The lingering fatigue can greatly affect reflexes pilots need to keep aircraft steady, as well as coordination needed for air refueling, landing or dealing with an emergency, he said.

“One of the things that seemed like a constant was that, when we were flying, there was always a certain level of fatigue associated with these flying operations,” he said.

Another component of the problem is that mobility pilots operate as a crew, Criss said.

“We are all trained to fly and work together as a team to get through the mission,” he said. “Well, the problem is when we have impaired cognitive reflex and interpersonal capabilities, our crew resource management is negatively impacted.”

Criss expanded his research at the Air Force’s Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies last year and began to look for solutions.

Enter BETTY, or the Better Effectiveness Through Tracking Yourself project.

BETTY — which is what Criss also affectionately calls the voice in the cockpit alert system — is a multi-pronged process, he explained.

The system includes a wristwatch that measures a pilot’s circadian rhythm, or the internal, 24-hour clock that regulates a person’s sleep-wake cycle.

[similar system developed by Caterpillar]

“Circadian rhythm disruption … is when our bodies are out of sync with our sleep and wake cycles,” Criss said. After flying, many people feel jet lag because the body and mind interpret differently when they should be asleep or awake, he explained.

“So one of the things I wanted to look at was how many of our crews are flying the opposite of their body clock,” he said.

A proposed software app would monitor “that data from the watch, and it’s actually able to run it through some of the sleep models that are already out there,” Criss said, adding that Air Mobility Command already uses a Sleep, Activity, Fatigue and Task Effectiveness (SAFTE) model that monitors some of these factors.

The combined data can act as a sleep assistant. “When I land in, say, Germany, and I’m trying and maybe I’ve already been awake for 27 hours, but the watch is telling me, ‘Hey, you’ve entered a low point in your circadian rhythm, you need to get two hours of sleep right now,” Criss said.

There is room for adjustment, especially if airmen can’t sleep very long knowing they have to grab a bite to eat or take off again soon for another mission.

“Maybe I don’t get that [two hours],” Criss said. “But BETTY is making all these adjustments in real time to try to help me maximize this crew rest” at a later time.

Criss’ final vision for BETTY is for it to pull the data from each crew member’s app into an aggregated dashboard that the crews, or even AMC, can monitor.


“Think of it like a battery for each crew — now AMC can see in real time all of the effectiveness and fatigue levels of their crews aggregated as one. When that call actually comes down for an alert, you can actually look at the ‘batteries’ of those crews, and see which crew is the most effective” to send out, he said.

Criss presented his research “Tired of Flying: The Unmitigated Risk of Aircrew Fatigue” and BETTY as the solution earlier this year to officials of MGMWERX, a partnership organization that blends part of DEFENSEWERX and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, to promote agile business.

MGMWERX in May offered a $1.5 million commitment for a Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program in the phase two stage. Through AFWERX — an Air Force innovation program that partners with small business and academia — a team then put together a proposal, asking for a real-time fatigue system for risk assessment; the window on the SBIR proposals closed this week, and an award contract is expected in the near future.

The Air Force-led organizations “put some money behind it to say, ‘We want to solve this problem,’ which is awesome,” Criss said.

“Anytime you do research, one of the things is, ‘Well, that’ll probably just end up in a trash can,'” he said. “It’s been pretty amazing that people have cared about it and that people are trying to actually take up a problem and work as a team to solve it.”

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.



Combating fatigue with a smartwatch application

Scientists from EPFL, UNIL and local startup have developed a system that uses heart rate variability to detect fatigue and identify what kind it is. The system then uses the results to suggest lifestyle changes that can make a difference. An initial test has been carried out on university students under real-world conditions.

Stress and fatigue have major health consequences and generate substantial costs for society. However, fatigue levels among individuals are rarely measured. That’s why scientists from EPFL’s Embedded Systems Laboratory (ESL), the Lausanne University Institute of Sport Sciences (ISSUL), the Lausanne University Sports Center and have developed a system for easily measuring those levels and determining what kind of fatigue patients are suffering from in order to provide targeted recommendations.

We often speak of fatigue in the singular, but there are actually different kinds. Which one you suffer from can be identified by monitoring heart rate variability – that is, the number of milliseconds between two heart beats. “If your sympathetic nervous system is affected, then you suffer from what we could call agitated fatigue, like when you’re so tired that you can’t sleep,” says Grégoire Millet, an ISSUL professor and co-founder of “But if your parasympathetic nervous system is affected, then you suffer from what we could call lethargic fatigue, where you don’t want to do anything.”

The treatments for these two types of fatigue are very different, whether in terms of how much exercise you should get or the kinds of foods should you eat, especially amino acids. In fact, getting these things wrong could make your condition worse.

A field study on university students

The scientists’ application connects to and measures the user’s heart rate variability. They tested it on university students by taking two sets of measurements daily: one during their regular physical activity; and the other during an orthostatic test (which is a special kind of test used for measuring heart rate variability). “Students had to lie down for five minutes and then stand up suddenly and remain standing for five minutes. That told us whether their central nervous system had been affected by fatigue,” says Elisabetta de Giovanni, a Ph.D. student at ESL investigating the design of next-generation multi-parametric smart wearables under the supervision of David Atienza, a professor at the EPFL School of Engineering. The study was carried out on around 70 students over three months.

[similar iPhone version]

The data collected during the study was processed so that they could be analyzed using the algorithms developed by This Lausanne-based firm has come up with a unique method for measuring, classifying and treating fatigue. The recommendations given to patients depend on the results of the algorithms’ analysis, and include suggestions for both diet and exercise. In addition to Professor Millet, other experts who worked on the study are Dr. Nicolas Bourdillon; Dr. Pascal Zellner, a specialist in connected healthcare; and Dr. Laurent Schmitt, a specialist in sports physiology.

Even better results thanks to a questionnaire

To make their system even more effective, the scientists asked the students to fill out a questionnaire indicating their sleeping patterns, any pain they experience, how heavy their workload is, how much stress they are under and how much exercise they get. Then the scientists matched the students’ responses with their heart rate variability data, and used these pairings to train the algorithms to recognize what heart-rate measurements correspond to which symptoms – and therefore what kind of fatigue. The goal is to enable the algorithms to correctly detect and identify the kind of fatigue a patient is experiencing.

The scientists are still developing their application and will use it in a second phase of the study, to determine whether there is a positive or negative correlation between physical activity and fatigue.

These technological and science developments hold great promise to give greater objectivity to measure this potentially lethal physiological condition. The military and Swiss research may soon provide civil aviation an important tool to reduce risks.


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