Taming technology

Most people can find something about the way computers work that seems unnecessarily difficult, unintuitive or just plain annoying. Bad design elements are grudgingly accepted as a fact of technical life.

But if you depend on computers to control the comings and goings of planes at a busy airport, a system that's hard to use becomes more than a minor irritant. The Federal Aviation Administration learned that lesson in 1997 when air traffic controllers assessing the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) found 98 usability problems with the system. The controllers' concerns ranged from opaque drop-down menus that blocked their view of critical aircraft data on displays to keyboards unlike those they had been using.

The concerns prompted the FAA to make a better effort to keep users and maintenance technicians in the loop as systems are developed. A key component of that effort is the Human Factors Branch at the FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, N.J., which advises the agency on systems development and commercial off-the-shelf acquisitions.

"Often they don't come to us until it's too late, but it's changing," said Earl Stein, manager of the Human Factors Branch. "Many people think of human-factors people as egghead researchers who like to get in their way. We are information sources. If you don't include us, we'll find problems."

The failure to address how people will actually use a system can put a program behind schedule and over budget. In the case of STARS, which is being developed by Raytheon Co., fixing the human factors has slowed deployment of the system and boosted the price tag from $940 million to $1.4 billion.

Last month, Lockheed Martin Corp. offered its Common Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS) as an alternative to STARS. Common ARTS, already delivered to 136 facilities, has been a contingency system during delays in STARS. Common ARTS is similar to STARS but does not include the human-factors changes sought by controllers, and the FAA will likely stick with the Raytheon system, which will be implemented starting in 2003.

"The largest challenge we faced in the last two years was to complete the development of the new [STARS] software to incorporate the computer/human interface changes identified by our workforce," said Steven Zaidman, FAA associate administrator for research and acquisitions. "That challenge is mostly behind us."

The development of STARS provided valuable lessons about the need to consider exactly how new tools will be used, said Kenneth Mead, the Department of Transportation inspector general.

"The FAA and DOT found out you can't just have a meeting on human- factors issues," Mead said during a hearing last month before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Aviation Subcommittee. "It's a scientific process. That was not known before STARS."

In April 1997, the FAA's Acquisition Management System required that "human factors will be considered during architectural and engineering design to achieve effective human performance during operations, maintenance and support."

The Human Factors Branch employs eight engineering research psychologists and an air traffic controller who report to the FAA's chief scientist for human factors. The group works with the integrated product teams responsible for systems acquisition and with developers of new air traffic control concepts.

Working at the Research Development and Human Factors Laboratory in Atlantic City, branch researchers conduct simulations and perform computer/ human interface analyses. The goal is systems that work better because they optimize the strengths of people and machines.

"There is a desire of technologists to implement technology because they can, whether or not it improves performance or reduces workload," Stein said. "If you put technology into a system, do it for the right reasons."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.