Researchers Rethink The Modern Cockpit

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Common in reviews of flashy new flat-panel cockpit displays (and frequently voiced among those who remember piston airliners) is the notion that while Technicolor screens should be easier to use and generally better-suited for communicating information, they don't seem to be. Science has stepped in to shed some light on this apparent contradiction, which, if taken to heart, could result in a wholesale redesign of the modern cockpit. In a nutshell, say researchers, it appears pilots are better able to process information from monochromatic, flickering, individual sources (like old-fashioned gauges?) than from all-in-one, color-coded screens. Apparently, we are able to look at a lot more than we are able to actually see, due in part to the way humans are wired to cope with visually dependent tasks. There are two basic visual processing systems our brains use to decode the photons hitting our retinas. One works better on single objects with a multitude of information while the other works better on multiple sources of information. The study found that earlier experiments that showed the screen displays improved pilot performance failed to take into account the second type of visual processing, which appears to work better for us in an information-rich environment. So what's it all mean? How about a "glass panel" with electronic renditions of black and white gauges that flicker. The more things change...