office workstation

A smart workstation uses AI to improve health and happiness

A research team from the University of Southern California and global design and engineering firm Arup was awarded a $667,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to design a workstation that uses artificial intelligence to learn and adjust to worker preferences and patterns, with the goal of improving the office workers well-being

Only in the U.S., 81 million office workers spend at least 75% of the day at a desk, and staying long hours in front of screens has been linked to significant health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.

“The idea behind the workstation is not only to provide a comfortable work environment, but to move an individual toward healthier conditions,” explained Shawn C. Roll, an associate professor and director of USC Chan’s Ph.D. in Occupational Science Program.

The project has three parts: lighting, temperature and ergonomics, injury prevention and productivity and performance.

Also thermal and visual comfort can have an impact on health: “The current design of heating, cooling and lighting systems don’t accommodate the differences we have in our preferences,” said Burcin Becerik-Gerber, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Stephen Schrank Early Career Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “They’re designed for specific standards.”

For instance, she said, people with narrow thermal comfort ranges are more prone to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity, and indoor lighting can create headaches and fatigue.

“And that can impact job satisfaction, and our lives,” she noted. “We spend 86% of our time indoors. Our team wants office workers, including myself, to have the benefits of an intelligent workstation, because health and well-being is directly linked to your happiness in work.”

Now six months into this three-year project, the researchers are currently working on using sensors to best understand a user’s comfort level, including posture, lighting, ambient temperature and other environmental factors.

“The goal is for the machine to learn about the worker: Are you warm or cold? Do you prefer to be warm or cold? Do you have a headache and need dimmer lighting today? Are you getting tense and need to stand?” Roll explained.

To examine the social aspects of human–machine interaction, Becerik-Gerber and Roll are collaborating with Gale Lucas, research assistant professor of computer science at USC Viterbi and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. The team is currently collecting focus-group input about how the workstation should offer prompts, including the degree of automation users are comfortable conceding.

Ideally, the workstation could eventually learn to evolve based on different parameters and users’ goals. That could mean maintaining fitness for healthy individuals, improving habits for workers who want to be healthier or adjusting to somebody’s specific physical impairment or disability.

“We aim to design a workstation that can sense all of these things, process that information and provide feedback, so we can improve wellness and performance across all of these different categories,” Roll said.

Additionally, employees who feel better will perform better, boosting productivity for companies.

“I think the benefits are tremendous,” Becerik-Gerber said. “If people want to use their spaces and feel better while at work, things like absenteeism, work-related injuries and conditions will decrease. If we can help people become healthier and more productive, that would be a huge benefit to employers.”

Every good designer knows that form follows function, meaning that the eventual shape of the intelligent workstation of the future remains to be seen.

 

 

Source: USC News

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