Blogging APA Division 21: The Cost of Automation Failure

Arathi Sethumadhavan, currently of Medtronic and recently of Texas Tech, was this year’s winner of the George E. Briggs dissertation award, for the best dissertation this year in the field of applied experimental psychology. Her advisor was Frank Durso.

Her work was inspired by our need to increase automation in aviation, due to increases in air traffic. However, automation does not come without costs — what happens the performance of air traffic controllers and pilots when the automation someday fails? At what point is the operator so “out of the loop” that recovery is impossible?

Sethumadhavan addressed this question by giving people different levels of automation and observing their performance after failures of the automated system. The more automated the system, the more errors occurred when that system failed.

She also measured the situation awareness of her participants in the different levels of automation — results were similar. Those who had more of their task automated had less situation awareness, and even after a system failure their awareness continued to be lower. In other words, they weren’t shocked out of complacency, as one might predict.

Sethumadhaven’s work directly contributes to understanding the human in the loop of the automated system, so that we can predict their behavior and explore design options to prevent errors due to putting the controller out of the loop.

You can read more on Dr. Sethumadhavan’s work here. Congratulations to her on this award!

Photo credit isafmedia under a Creative Commons license.