Dr. Kathleen D. Van Benthem & Dr. Chris M. Herdman

Dr. Kathleen D. Van Benthem, Senior Research Associate, Department of Cognitive Science, Carleton University

Dr. Kathleen Van Benthem is a Senior Research Associate at Carleton University (Department of Cognitive Science). Dr. Van Benthem has been actively researching aviator cognitive performance for more than a decade and has more than 20 years experience in clinical cognitive assessments. Dr. Van Benthem is the lead researcher for one of the world’s largest studies on pilot cognitive health assessment. A major goal of her work is to advance evidence-based and non-age-biased methods for determining pilot competencies and for classifying pilot risk. Dr. Van Benthem is a proponent of emerging extended reality technologies and has extensive experience with virtual (VR) and augmented reality in the aviation and maritime domains. Dr. Van Benthem has developed novel methods for the classification of pilot mental workload using electroencephalography, heart rate variability, and electrodermal activity. Her primary research agenda involves the development of a VR testing environment and a cognitive assessment protocol for identifying pilot competencies and levels of risk along a continuum of key aviation outcomes. Dr. Van Benthem has published and presented her work on pilot cognitive assessment in North America and internationally.


Dr. Chris M. Herdman, Full Professor of Cognitive Science and Psychology, Scientific Director of Carleton University Centre for Visualization and Simulation, Head of Advanced Cognitive Engineering Lab

Dr. Chris Herdman is a Full Professor of Cognitive Science and Psychology, the Scientific Director of the Carleton University Centre for Visualization and Simulation (VSIM), and Head of the Advanced Cognitive Engineering (ACE) Lab. As Scientific Director of the VSIM Centre, Dr. Herdman leads an interdisciplinary team that is focused on bridging fundamental and applied research. The VSIM Centre is a research facility with eleven core labs equipped with state-of-the-art visualization and simulation technologies, including several high-fidelity flight simulators as well as driving, naval (ship deck) and UAV simulators. The VSIM Centre also has state-of-the-art virtual reality and augmented reality technology. Dr. Herdman is the research director for one of the world’s largest studies examining assessment methods for pilot cognitive health.


A Virtual Reality Cognitive Assessment for Aviators: Practical Line and Training Applications

This presentation focuses on the training and line applications of a virtual reality (VR) cognitive assessment for aviators. In 2017, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency published a report indicating that practical cognitive assessment of pilots was critical for determining risk for accidents during flight. Simulation studies, accident reports, and national summary aviation accident statistics consistently demonstrate strong links between pilot cognition and accidents and also suggest that cognitive factors outweigh other health factors in importance. Our research has found that only ecologically valid cognitive performance scores, such as those obtained during virtual reality flight simulation, are useful in predicting real-world risk.

We will present on four principal cognitive factors used to classify pilot risk (situation awareness, flight precision, prospective memory, and task management) and how they are assessed using the VR cognitive assessment protocol. We will also discuss the risk classification pipeline, beginning with the VR tasks and other classification factors, the assessment procedures, data collection methods, and data management.

Our experience with a variety of classification machine learning algorithms, and their utility in identifying risk across the pilot lifespan, will also be reviewed. This talk invites discussion regarding the applications for the VR cognitive assessment for aviators along the career span, from training, to simulation checks, to older pilot cognitive assessment.

In light of the looming worldwide pilot shortage, attendees may be particularly interested in how the VR cognitive assessment for aviators might be used to optimize the flying career of pilots approaching retirement age.