Academic journal article Human Factors

Attentional Models of Multitask Pilot Performance Using Advanced Display Technology

Academic journal article Human Factors

Attentional Models of Multitask Pilot Performance Using Advanced Display Technology

Article excerpt


Two new technologies proposed for the advanced cockpit are the cockpit display of traffic information (CDTI), designed to enhance pilots' awareness of nearby traffic (Wickens, Helleberg, & Xu, 2002), and the data link communications system, designed to provide digitally uplinked communications from air traffic control to the pilot (Kerns, 1999; Navarro & Sikorski, 1999). The two systems have much in common: Both are entering a phase of preliminary in-flight testing, rely on advanced technology, and are undergoing extensive human factors evaluations. In particular, both systems will change a function that has been traditionally carried out by air traffic control (ATC) communications--and hence has involved auditory (speech) information in the cockpit--to one that is computer mediated and will involve visual (display) information. This alteration could have major implications for a single-pilot aircraft, in which visual attention is already heavily burdened by responsibilities of instrument-panel scanning and outside-world monitoring.

One function of the CDTI will be to help pilots understand where traffic outside can be spotted and thus aid them in calling out "traffic in sight" by replacing the traditional role of ATC in guiding attention through oral instructions (e.g., "watch for traffic, 10:00 high, 2 miles out"). In the case of the data link, the intention is to provide a visual text version of instructions (e.g., "climb to flight level 220") to replace the oral communications from ATC, which have proven vulnerable to working memory failures when messages are long.

The change from auditory to visual representation of traffic and communications information in an already-busy visual environment has important implications for the single pilots' limited visual attentional resources. In this two-part paper, we consider the implications of this change for two aspects of attention: the role of multiple resources (defined by auditory and visual modalities) in characterizing the pilot's divided attention and the role of optimal scanning models in characterizing the pilot's selective attention. In Part 1 we describe an experiment that addresses the first of these issues by comparing auditory and visual delivery of both traffic and communications information. In Part 2 we address the second issue by evaluating an optimal model of visual scanning in the traffic-monitoring phase of the experiment and in two related experiments for which the data are reported elsewhere. We first review the literature that bears on each of these parts.

Modality Differences in Information Delivery

At one level of abstraction, the pilot's tasks can be modeled as depending on two generic sources of visual information. In order to aviate, the highest-priority task (maintaining stability and keeping the aircraft from stalling), the pilot must process visual information from the instrument panel as well as (in good weather) from the relative orientation or attitude of the true horizon viewed outside. To navigate, the second-priority task, the pilot must also process information from the instrument panel, maps, specialized navigational instruments, and the view outside to identify both hazardous objects to be avoided (other air traffic, terrain) and objects to seek (e.g., a runway; Wickens, 2005). Against this two-task backdrop of visual (V) information-processing demands, the pilot may also have tasks of lower priority (we refer to these here as side tasks) that can be accomplished visually (e.g., reading checklists) or auditorily (A; e.g., listening to ATC communications). The lower-priority status of such tasks does not mean that they are unimportant--rather, that if they conflict with a higher-priority task, the latter should normally take precedence (Schutte & Trujillo, 1996).

An extensive line of dual-task research generally suggests an advantage of mixed-modality (AV) over intramodality (VV) presentation in basic laboratory tasks as well as in more applied flying and driving simulations (Parkes & Coleman, 1990; Wickens, Sandry, & Vidulich, 1983). …

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