Fatigue monitoring in time and safety-critical environments

Operator fatigue is a serious problem leading to preventable accidents. This is true in many demanding occupations where human lives are at risk such as aviation, land transport, healthcare, forestry and mining. iVOICE – integrated VIOce analysis of satellite Communications Embedded in time and safety-critical environment – is an innovative way of detecting mental stain and fatigue by analysing voice communication through the day. It was developed at University College London (UCL) as part of an ESA-funded study looking into the health of astronauts.

The 2014 iVOICE study at the UCL’s Centre for Space Medicine evaluated improvements to existing voice analysis technologies, coupled with high fidelity communications signal and GPS data, aiming to detect situations of mental strain and fatigue in operators and offer a new technology. The project focus was the potential to develop services linked to high-risk and high-stress environments or dislocated domains, including heavy equipment operation, ground and air transportation for private and commercial use.

The subsequent iVOICE feasibility study showed the potential of this technology for assessing changes in fatigue from the voice in laboratory-based conditions. The 2019 demonstration project WOMBATT Fatigue Management was proposed to tailor the performance and practical use of this fatigue monitoring technology during normal commercial operations in specific environments such as mining.

Truck driver in open pit mine monitored by iVOICE fatigue detection system. Credit: Wombatt

What do astronauts and miners have in common?

Mines are often located in very remote regions, without typical communications infrastructure. The iVOICE makes use of satellite communications services provided by Datasat Ltd. to maintain communications between mines, operators and the monitoring centre. The geolocational satellites such as Galileo and GPS keep track of the physical location of users.

Mining companies are being approached to integrate this technology in every-day operation to continuously monitor operators well-being and prevent costly mistakes, especially since these industries are already relying on satellite infrastructure and services for communication, data transfer and navigation services. 

The technology behind iVOICE results from previous work supported by ESA’s programme aimed to monitor astronaut’s fatigue levels via voice pattern changes. iVOICE is using existing signal processing and machine learning capabilities developed for linguistic analysis of speech to monitor and evaluate the psychological state and health of individuals.

The benefits of fatigue management

iVOICE integrates the voice analysis method into a complete fatigue management, service provided to the mining industry by WOMBATT Fatigue Management. The technology promises to monitoring how tiredness affects the voice and assess fatigue through simple audio recordings of the operator without any specialist equipment, at low cost and high reliability, and can be integrated within operators’ natural working environment. During preliminary trials to review user requirements, iVOICE has already been tested in Peru and Guyana and proved to be a promising technology.

The target users are from several industry sectors: mining, forestry, land transport, aviation (both ground and air), disaster recovery, peace keeping and military, and healthcare. For example, a significant population of iVOICE users could be drivers of trucks and buses making long journeys outside of mobile telephony connectivity.