Alumni Snapshot: Santosh Mathan

  • M.H.C.I., human-computer interaction, Carnegie Mellon University, 1996
  • M.A., instructional science, CMU, 2000
  • Ph.D., human-computer interaction, CMU, 2004

Santosh Mathan's research includes monitoring and interpreting neurophysiological (brain and nervous system) signals using body-worn sensors. But he doesn't have one of those crazy helmets used by mad scientists in old movies, he says, laughing.

"Many of the systems we use are like baseball caps with embedded sensors," says Mathan, principal scientist at Honeywell Research Laboratories in Seattle. "Very low profile. The technology has evolved quite a bit."

Mathan is investigating ways that brain activity--detected using electroencephalography, or EEG--can be used for tasks such as managing workload, estimating attention, and manipulating physical objects. Imagine, for instance, if a brain-wave sensor could tell a monitoring system that an air-traffic controller was getting fatigued, or if it could enable someone who's lost the use of her limbs to maneuver a wheelchair through a crowded room.

"EEG has been around as a clinical tool for psychological research for decades," Mathan says. "We're trying to take some of that research out of the lab and into practical settings. Areas of application that we are working on are broad--from tools for assessing cognitive function following traumatic brain injury, to games, to hands-free robotic controls."

There are several challenges. Neural signals are very weak, and older-style EEG sensors were placed on the skin using a conductive gel that's "inconvenient and unpleasant," Mathan says. Dry electrodes developed by Mathan's research collaborators show considerable promise, and the algorithms developed by his lab can reliably detect signals associated with working memory load, attention, and perceptual judgments--in real time. Honeywell is already field-testing some of the technology. "Most of it is still lab work--but it's fairly advanced lab work--in collaboration with universities and companies around the world. We have validated this technology among pilots, intelligence analysts, soldiers and people recovering from brain trauma," Mathan says.

Mathan was attracted to Honeywell because of the company's long history in aerospace technology, including design and manufacture of aircraft navigation systems and engines. A pilot since 1992, Mathan has a "huge passion" for flying and wanted to apply his computer science knowledge to the aviation industry.
Besides flying occasionally from Seattle's Boeing Field, Mathan, his wife Reny, and daughters Sara and Miriam enjoy outdoor activities such as sailing and kayaking in Seattle's Lake Union. "We also enjoy good food, and the Seattle area is a great place for that," he says.
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Jason Togyer | 412-268-8721 |