According to The Globe and Mail website Ontario nuclear plants are the first in their industry worldwide to test-drive a futuristic lightweight device that measures employees’ concentration level by reading their brainwaves. The device is a box, about the size of two decks of cards, that attaches via velcro straps anywhere on your body. A trio of button-like prongs picks up the electric current travelling along your skin and measures the waves your brain activity creates – the higher the beta wave concentration, the higher your focus.
The imperative of teaching concentration is greater than ever, says Rob Templeton, Ontario Power Generation’s lead auditor for operations.
Five years ago, Mr. Templeton was in charge of OPG’s operator training program when he heard that a kind of neurofeedback technology being used for children with attention-deficit disorder was also being used by NASA to measure astronauts’ level of concentration.
“If its original intent was to help astronauts and test pilots,” he says, “why not nuclear operators?”
The technology is the brainchild of Peter Freer, a North Carolina elementary-school teacher frustrated by stymied efforts to help students with ADD. It took 11 years and three jobs for him to scrape together enough cash to create a prototype for an educational program called PlayAttention. Mr. Freer was testing the technology on the U.S. bobsled team, with the same focus-boosting aim, when Mr. Templeton cold-called him. Could Mr. Freer whip up something like that for nuclear-plant operators?
Mr. Templeton wanted something as unintrusive as possible – normally, electroencephalograms are gathered through wires suctioned to the scalp, which can get in the way in a simulated nuclear control room. The result is a device called BodyWave. It weighs about 170 grams, can be strapped anywhere on the body and is eminently portable.
About 100 employees at the Pickering and Darlington nuclear plants have tested the device over the past year. People were skeptical at first, Mr. Templeton says, but “then they try it, and … it’s like, ‘Wow. This is really neat.’ ”
“We’re kind of marching ahead of the band here. We have to convince people this is viable … and to show that in the context of its cost, it’s effective.”
The program has cost OPG $50,000 to roll out, out of what the utility reports is a total $50-million training budget.
Some neurologists, however, think Mr. Freer’s claims are too good to be true.
“It sounds like science fiction. It doesn’t make any sense,” says Claude Alain, a scientist at Baycrest Rotman Research Institute.
Read the full story on The Globe and Mail.com
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