Washington, DC - The National Science Foundation (NSF) is investing over $25 million in 26 projects to advance the cognitive and physical capabilities of workers in the context of human-technology interactions. These new awards will address critical social, technical, educational and economic needs in the workplace.

The awards were issued under the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF), one of 10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments announced by NSF in 2016.

The new projects will advance human-technology collaboration in the workplace and focus on enhancing productivity, innovation and learning. Research will provide foundations for augmenting human cognition, including:

  • Models for social understanding and interaction.
  • Teaching and learning.
  • Biases in judgment.
  • Attention, memory and more.

Research also will work to advance the field of embodied intelligent cognitive assistants, systems that harness machine intelligence to enhance human cognitive and physical capabilities. These interactive cyber-physical systems involve robots, exoskeletons, virtual reality and augmented reality, including in autonomous vehicles and the built environment.

The award amounts range from $750,000 to $3 million each for three to five years, depending on the scope, duration and team size for the project.

"The landscape of jobs and work is changing at unprecedented speed, driven by the development of new technologies that have moved into an expanding array of manufacturing, knowledge and service occupations," said Dawn Tilbury, NSF's assistant director for Engineering. "These changes promise benefits to the nation in terms of increased productivity, opportunity for innovation, the creation of new industries and occupations as well as sustained global leadership."

Each project brings together researchers from different disciplines to solve a vexing research problem, integrating knowledge, methods and expertise to catalyze discovery and innovation. This approach is known as Growing Convergence Research, another one of NSF's Big Ideas.

A condition of the awards is that they must study human-technology interaction within the broader socioeconomic framework of jobs and work, and must also be attentive to social and economic impacts that can benefit workers, like training and workforce development.

"The impact of emerging technologies goes beyond individual workers to the transformation of occupations and entire industries," said Arthur Lupia, NSF's assistant director for Social, Behavioral & Economics Sciences. "This research addresses the effect of future work technologies on workers and provides the means to grow and transmit the requisite skills."

The funded projects include:

  • An embodied intelligent cognitive assistant to enhance cognitive performance of shift workers, Akane Sano, William Marsh Rice University; Tanzeem Choudhury, Cornell University; Deepak Ganesan and Tauhidur Rahman, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Augmenting and advancing cognitive performance of control room operators for power grid resiliency, Alexandra von Meier, University of California-Berkeley; Anurag Srivastava, Paul Whitney, Anjan Bose, Adam Hahn and Saeed Lotfifard, Washington State University; Gautam Biswas and Abhishek Dubey, Vanderbilt University
  • Augmented cognition for teaching: Transforming teacher work with intelligent cognitive assistants, James Lester and Bradford Mott, North Carolina State University; Krista Glazewski, Thomas Brush and Cindy Hmelo-Silver, Indiana University
  • Enhancing human capabilities through virtual personal embodied assistants in self-contained eyeglasses-based augmented reality systems, Gordon Wetzstein and Jeremy Bailenson, Stanford University; Henry Fuchs, Jan-Michael Frahm, Mohit Bansal, Prudence Plummer and Felicia Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The next mobile office: Safe and productive work in automated vehicles, Raffaella Sadun, Harvard University; Andrew Kun, University of New Hampshire; Linda Boyle, University of Washington; Orit Shaer, Wellesley College; John Lee, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Integrating cognitive science and intelligent systems to enhance geoscience practice, Basil Tikoff, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Thomas Shipley and Alexandra Davatzes, Temple University; M. Ani Hsieh, University of Pennsylvania
  • Pre-skilling workers, understanding labor force implications and designing future factory human-robot workflows using a physical simulation platform, Kylie Peppler, Indiana University; Daron Acemoglu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Karthik Ramani, Thomas Redick, Shimon Nof and Alexander Quinn, Purdue University
  • The future of classroom work: Automated teaching assistants, Kurt VanLehn, Arizona State University
  • Future of firefighting and career training - advancing cognitive, communication, and decision making capabilities of firefighters, Aidong Lu, Wei Zhao, Aixi Zhou and Weichao Wang, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Human-machine teaming for medical decision making, Suchi Saria, David Newman-Toker, Chien-Ming Huang, Martin Makary and William Padula, Johns Hopkins University
  • Whole-body exoskeletons for advanced vocational enhancement (WEAVE), Divya Srinivasan, Nathan Lau, Alexander Leonessa, Suqin Ge and Maury Nussbaum, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • First person view and augmented reality for airborne embodied intelligent cognitive assistants, Craig Woolsey, Joseph Gabbard, Pratap Tokekar and Matthew Hebdon, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University