A worker wearing a helmet reacts to the camera in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. Photo: IC
Workers in China have been given hats fitted with sensors that detect their brainwaves to tell if they are losing their concentration while on the job.
The technology has been either tested or used among high-speed railway drivers, factory workers, patients, university students and also military officers, said industry insiders reached by the Global Times.
In December 2015, some drivers of the high-speed trains that run between Shanghai and Hefei in East China's Anhui Province began wearing the equipment for safety reasons.
The brain surveillance system includes a sensor built into the brim of the driver's hat that can collect brainwave information, a smart watch that can detect the pulse as well as other smart devices, according to the developer, a Shanghai-based technology company named Deayea.
The system, with an accuracy of over 90 percent, can gauge the attention span of drivers, and also their mood, such as whether and when they are depressed, sleepy or fatigued while driving, Xie Wenjun, an employee from Deayea's marketing department, told the Global Times.
The system will grade the driver from 1 to 100 based on his attention and fatigue level. If the grade drops below 85, the watch will vibrate to warn the driver. When the grade goes below 65, the driver will receive a voice reminder and a message will be sent to a backstage operator who can call the driver to wake him up or replace him, Xie elaborated.
One of these devices costs around 100,000 yuan ($15,800), and includes service fees, according to Deayea.
The company is working with a Beijing-based air force institute on a pilot selection system that can detect "unstable emotions" in candidates during training, said Xie.
The technology is also being used in factories in Hangzhou at State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power, which said it could increase the overall efficiency of the workers by adjusting the frequency and length of break times to reduce mental stress, the South China Morning Post reported in April.
It has boosted the Hangzhou company's profits by about 2 billion yuan since it was rolled out in 2014, said the report.
Currently, brain surveillance devices are able to measure vigilance, attention, sleepiness and fatigue, Ma Qingguo, head of Academy of Neuroeconomics and Neuromanagement in Ningbo University, told the Global Times.
Ma created China's first neuromanagement laboratory and is currently heading the university's Neuro Cap project, one of the leading projects conducting research in this field in the country.
Brain surveillance devices in the market are mostly first generation products, and certain problems such as differences between individuals should be studied more in future, said Ma.
The detection of brain activity is significant for jobs that require agile decision-making and the ability to work under high pressure, he added.
According to industry insiders, the systems designed for drivers for long-distance transportation as well as for vehicles carrying dangerous chemicals are being studied.
Though the use of such technologies is helpful for public security, the scope of use should be strictly supervised to avoid legal and moral risks, Zhu Wei, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.
Researchers at the University of Alabama suggest that brainwave-sensing headsets, also known as EEG or electroencephalograph headsets, need better security, after a study revealed hackers could guess a user's password by monitoring their brainwaves, US-based science news website Science Daily reported in July 2017.
The supervision of stored data must be enhanced to avoid data trading and leaking. "Workers wearing the device should also be fully informed about the purpose and work mode of the surveillance devices," Zhu warned.
Stressing that the hats are not brain-reading machines, as they can only measure the mood and not read the reasons behind them, Ma noted that the technology does not infringe on users' privacy.
"It's about providing information to ensure workplace safety, for better management and higher efficiency," Ma said.
In market research, there are diverse applications for EEG headsets internationally, digital news site born2invest.com reported in December. In Singapore, one tourism company used the Emotiv EEG headset to monitor the reactions of children and adults at various tourist attractions.
Just as in other countries, China has used the technology in the military, where it shows promising prospects, Ma said.
Though China's research in the field did not start until a decade ago, the country's technology on brain information collecting and analysis is on a par with that of developed Western countries, said Ma.