Aviation pioneers Louis Blériot and the Wright brothers did not need “human factor engineering”. Their flying machines were rudimentary and controlling them was simple – that is, if they flew at all. Well, fly they did, and largely because of the pilot and flight controls they invented, such as foot controlled rudders, joysticks, and three-axis control, which are still in use in some forms today.
It’s not so easy for their present-day successors who are faced with complex cockpits with dozens of switches, screens, and lights, not to mention increasingly overcrowded airports and skies. They need logical, simple controls, as well as the training that leads to routinisation of as many tasks as possible, so that when it gets busy or unexpected events occur they can focus on the essential, anticipating and delegating as appropriate.
“It’s vital for us to design human-system interfaces that match the way pilots think to best support their decision processes,” says Sylvain Hourlier, Senior Expert on Human Factors at Thales. “Cockpits nowadays need human factor engineering to make human-machine interfaces as intuitive, natural, and simple as possible.”
However that’s not enough. With an increase of over 80% in global flights expected by 2040, pilots, as well as air traffic controllers, need help that goes beyond legacy control systems and even human capabilities. “Artificial Intelligence must become the new partner in the air management community. It should act like a good teacher, explaining the complex in simple words,” adds Mr. Hourlier.
But for now, the psychology of how computers interact with humans is still in its infancy, so Thales is using its decades of experience in human-factors engineering and big data processing to make AI more explainable and yes - more human.
This is crucial to ensure that the ever-escalating air traffic remains fluid and safe. Pilots of the future must count on AI-powered flight control and communications systems seamlessly connecting the aircraft and its environment, albeit under the supervision of humans on board or on the ground.