Automation Technology and Human Performance: Current Research and Trends

By Mark W. Scerbo | Go to book overview
When an airplane crashes, the first thing we do is ask whether the pilot or the controller made an error. If not, we start looking for some type of system failure. If we find such a failure, we then try to determine whether it was due to a maintenance shortcoming or, if not, a design flaw. If the airplane breaks, our ultimate purpose is not to blame the airplane, but rather to figure out what type of human activity (design, maintenance, operation) led to the failure.People who would like to get rid of human error by getting rid of the human operator may not recognize that automation is the product of a human activity. In fact, automation simply replaces the operator with the designer; to the extent that a system is made less vulnerable to operator error, it is made more vulnerable to designer error. This is well demonstrated by incidents where a landing aircraft failed to trigger the weight on wheels switch, causing the ground spoilers, brakes, and thrust reversers to be locked out of pilot control.Defenders of the "automate, don't operate" position may appeal to the fact that the designer has considerably more time and tools at his or her disposal when confronting an operational problem than the pilot has, and that there do exist methods of validating and verifying system software. Leaving aside the arguments over how well these methods work, validation and verification is a means of measuring the software product against the specification. The hard, possibly intractable, part is making sure that the specification is complete and valid for all possible situations and conditions. Until this is possible, design will always have a large subjective element to it, and systems will work according to either the operator's judgment, or the designer's judgment.This brings us to the matter of trust. Is the public more likely to trust a designer to foresee all possibilities, when he or she is probably safely on the ground somewhere when their system gets into trouble, or a pilot who is on board the aircraft and wants to live (presumably) just as much as they do? If we automate everything and get rid of the operator, should we make sure that a member of the design team is on every flight of that series of aircraft so the other passengers don't feel that they're taking more of a risk than the designer? That the designer is backing up his or her fiduciary responsibility?Consider the evidence so far, that despite the sophisticated level of technology we have now, the only completely automated civil transportation system is the elevator and its horizontal counterpart, the airport tram.
HUMAN AUTOMATION INTERACTION: AN AIRLINE PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE
Richard B. Stone Bountiful, UTWith the introduction of the B767 in the early 1980's a dramatic change was made. Automation of systems, flight controls, and navigation were bundled together in an integrated fashion. Pilots immediately embraced the new displays but at the same time spoke of the feeling of being "out of the loop" or the added burden of programming during times of high workload.Over the years a training philosophy has been adopted to limit the pilots knowledge to those technical details that the pilot could change, particularly in regards to the Flight Management System (FMS). Now some 18 years later that philosophy is being reexamined.When viewed over the period since introduction the new automated aircraft appear to have successfully:
Improved situational awareness through the active display of present position
Relieved pilots of boring and repetitive tasks such as optimizing aircraft performance, maintaining aircraft track, and automatic downloading of maintenance information.
Improved navigational accuracy.
Improved aircraft performance i.e. fuel economy and time enroute.

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