Academic journal article Human Factors

Team Play with a Powerful and Independent Agent: A Full-Mission Simulation Study

Academic journal article Human Factors

Team Play with a Powerful and Independent Agent: A Full-Mission Simulation Study

Article excerpt

One major problem with pilot-automation interaction on modem flight decks is a lack of mode awareness; that is, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the current and future status and behavior of the automation. A lack of mode awareness is not simply a pilot problem; rather, it is a symptom of a coordination breakdown between humans and machines. Recent changes in automation design can therefore be expected to have an impact on the nature of problems related to mode awareness. To examine how new automation properties might affect pilot-automation coordination, we performed a full-mission simulation study on one of the most advanced automated aircraft, the Airbus A-320. The results of this work indicate that mode errors and "automation surprises" still occur on these advanced aircraft. However, there appear to be more opportunities for delayed or missing interventions with undesirable system activities, possibly because of higher system autonomy and coupling.


Achieving new levels of system performance often involves the development and introduction of new technology and automation capabilities. However, recent research has shown that expanding technological powers, although necessary, is rarely sufficient to improve performance. Rather, the success of modern technology depends to a large extent on its ability to function as a "team player" with human practitioners (e.g., Billings, 1996; Parasuraman & Mouloua, 1996; Wiener & Curry, 1980). New automated systems that have not been designed to be effective team players have been shown to contribute to miscommunications, misassessments, misentries, mode errors, workload bottlenecks, attentional bottlenecks, coordination surprises, incidents, and even accidents (e.g., Abbott et al., 1996; Norman, 1990; Sarter, Woods, & Billings, 1997).

Commercial aviation has served as one of the prime natural laboratories for advancing the understanding of human-automation cooperation because of the introduction of more powerful automated and computerized systems into flight decks over the last 20 years. The introduction of these systems has provided researchers the opportunity to collect data on human-automation cooperation by observing line operations (e.g., Wiener, 1989), interviewing pilots of these aircraft, surveying pilot opinions (e.g., Tenney, Rogers, & Pew, 1995; Wiener, 1989), and collecting reports of cases of miscommunication and confusion from line experience (e.g., Sarter & Woods, 1992, 1997). Researchers can examine incidents through reports to the Aviation Safety Reporting System (e.g., Eldredge, Dodd, & Mangold, 1991) and, unfortunately, reports and analyses of accidents in which human-automation interaction played a role (see summaries of selected accidents in Billings, 1996).

All of these efforts have pointed to a number of recurrent problems in human-automation interaction, such as clumsy automation (Wiener, 1989), loss of mode awareness (Sarter & Woods, 1995), and automation surprises (Sarter, Woods, & Billings, 1997). Mode awareness is defined as the ability of a supervisor to track and anticipate the status and behavior of automated systems. A lack of mode awareness can result in mode errors of commission when the operator executes an intention in a way appropriate for one automation configuration when the system is, in fact, in a different state. Other possible outcomes include delayed or missing interventions when system-initiated actions or events prove undesirable.

The strength of the existing data on human-automation interaction is that they come from user experiences in actual line operations. The weakness of these data is that they rely too much on opinion and retrospective analyses of past cases, are subject to reporting biases, or provide only coarse-grain insights into the sources of observed difficulties. As a result, there has been an interest in using full-scope training simulators to design flight situations that challenge pilot coordination and management of automated resources and closely track how they use automation to handle these situations. …

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