Nadine B. Sarter Institute of Aviation - Research Laboratory University of Illinoisat Urbana-Champaign
The evolution of modern technology from reactive tools to powerful and independent agents has created problems which are related to breakdowns in human-automation communication and coordination ( Eldredge et al., 1991; Rudisill, 1991; Sarter & Woods, 1994; 1997; Wiener, 1989). Several factors are known to contribute to these breakdowns. Human operators sometimes have an inaccurate and/or incomplete model of the functional structure of the automation which can make it difficult or even impossible for them to predict, monitor, and interpret system status and behavior ( Carroll & Olson, 1988, Sarter & Woods, 1994; Wiener, 1989). At the same time, systems sometimes fail to complement operators' expectation- or knowledge-driven information search by providing them with external attentional guidance, especially in the case of events and activities that were not (explicitly) commanded by the user ( Sarter, 1995; Sarter, Woods, & Billings, 1997; Wiener, 1989). To address the latter problem, the communicative skills of modern technology need to be improved. They need to be enabled to play a more active role in sharing information with their human counterparts concerning their status, behavior, intentions, and limitations in a timely manner. One promising candidate for achieving this goal is the (re)introduction and context-sensitive use of multisensory feedback. In particular, peripheral visual and tactile feedback appear underutilized but powerful means for capturing and guiding operators' attention and for supporting the parallel processing of considerable amounts of relevant information in highly complex dynamic domains. Benefits and potential costs associated with these feedback mechanisms are currently examined in the context of simulation studies of pilot interaction with modern flight deck technology.
Modern automation technology involves increasingly high levels of autonomy, authority, complexity, and coupling. Systems can initiate actions on their own without input from their operator. They can also take actions that go beyond or even counteract those explicitly commanded by the system user. In some cases, systems can communicate with each other and engage in cooperative activities without operator involvement (see current plans for future air traffic management operations).
Operational experience and research in the aviation domain (e.g., Eldredge et al., 1991; Rudisill, 1991; Sarter & Woods, 1994; 1995; Wiener, 1989) as well as recent incidents and accidents involving advanced technology aircraft (e.g., Dornheim, 1995; Sparaco, 1994) have shown that these system properties and capabilities can create difficulties if they are not combined with effective communication and coordination skills on the part of the automation. For example, pilots are known to sometimes lose track of the status and behavior of their "strong but silent" automated counterparts. The result is automation surprises and mode errors ( Sarter & Woods, 1995; 1997; Sarter, Woods, & Billings, 1997).
One recent accident illustrates this potential for mode confusion on highly automated aircraft. In this case, the crew is believed to have selected a particular lateral navigation mode to comply with an ATC clearance. Due to system coupling, their selection had not only the desired but also an unintended effect - a transition in vertical modes, resulting in an excessively high rate of descent. This mode transition and its effect on aircraft behavior went unnoticed -- the pilots did not expect and monitor for it, and the system did not capture their attention or ask for their consent to both transitions. The airplane descended far below the