Researchers Aim To Refine Human-Aircraft Interface

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The design of today’s cockpits can lead to “cognitive overload,” especially when things go wrong and it’s not immediately clear to pilots what the problem is or how to fix it, according to recent research at Drexel University. "Unfortunately, many human-machine interfaces expose users to workload extremes, diminishing the operator's attention and potentially leading to catastrophic consequences," said Hasan Ayaz, a research professor in biomedical engineering at Drexel University, in Philadelphia. Ayaz and his colleagues have been studying pilots flying in both real airplanes and in simulators, and measuring their brain activity with a portable electronic device. Ayaz said he hopes the research will lead to developing smarter cockpits that take into account the pilot’s cognitive abilities and will do a better job of conveying essential information, especially in emergencies.

The researchers’ monitoring system measures the brain’s work intensity by recording blood oxygenation changes in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in cognitive functions such as problem solving, memory, judgement, impulse control and split-second decision making. When first learning a new task, for instance, this area of the brain is highly activated. However, as you become more proficient, these tasks move to other brain areas, freeing up important resources in the prefrontal cortex. "The exciting thing is we can now quantify this," Ayaz said. The research results were published this week in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Comments (4)

What ... It takes still another PhD doing research and publishing it (likely Govt funded) to tell us that information overload in the cockpit isn't good! And, "smarter" cockpits will fix it. Maybe we should just go back to steam gauge cockpits? I've found that I can focus on my 'steam' panels in about a second while staring at a glass screen forces me to focus on a portion of it to filter out the wheat from the chaff. Under duress, it would be more complicated.

The Air Force already figured this out 40 years ago ... That's how HUD's and HOTAS got invented for fighters. Why I'll bet that autonomous airplanes will fix all of this complexity for today's young folks fixated on their devices vs the external world?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 23, 2018 6:23 AM    Report this comment

It's been known for a long time that staring at "steam gauges" kept you closer to the edge of your seat, than the highly automated cockpit.. Therefor, you responded appropriately to an emergency in shorter time then say someone half awake waiting for a caution/warning from the automation.. We've already hit a significantly high level of safety (2017) throughout the world.. Mostly because of new equipment in aircraft, qualification and training policies, as well as new airfield signage and lighting..

Quantifying a "pilot's cognitive abilities" monitoring oxygenation brain levels.. At what cost..? And where does the probe go..?

Remember, we're in a foot race to automate the pilot out of the cockpit, before you can hook him/her up to a Pilot Congnitive Super Reflux Machine..

Posted by: Tom O'Toole | May 23, 2018 11:01 AM    Report this comment

I read the provided link on the research.
What's funny is that their own example (SW1380 engine explosion) demonstrates the OPPOSITE of the articles premise. What that example demonstrated was that a pilot flew the plane first and ignored most of the "human interface"" except for the basics.

I would propose the opposite that massive automation and screens actually make most pilots lazy. We need more real stick and ruder pilots that know how to glide and have good seat-of-the-pants instincts. It's those kind of pilots that land crippled planes without engines and save everyone on board.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 23, 2018 2:15 PM    Report this comment

The Air France Airbus crash in the Atlantic showed that too much automation causes pilots to forget how to fly. The FAA ordered more hand flying. And not mentioned is that Airbus' don't allow many things to happen so crew have to learn how to defeat the automation in order to make the machine do what they want it to. Mark is correct.

I think we have too many PhD's and a shortage of "qualified" pilots.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 24, 2018 7:41 AM    Report this comment

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