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Automation and the Human: Intended and Unintended Consequences

General Content

Transportation Safety in the Digital Age
Roundtable 2

Held April 13, 2012

Increasingly, humans are being asked to interact with automation in complex transportation system management and control functions ranging from air traffic management to unmanned aviation systems, positive train control systems, motor vehicle dashboards, and ship control systems. This roundtable will help deepen our understanding of human-machine interactions in transportation system design and operation.

Recent reports suggest that non-standardized automation of motor vehicle control functions may make transportation vehicles too complicated to drive without a much greater emphasis on operator training. Changes in the roles and responsibilities of the human operator introduce difficult and error-prone tasks to system designers, human operators and automation supervisors, and technicians, especially in the context of unforeseen or atypical events.

Recognizing that there are clearly unintended consequences of introducing automation into transportation communications, navigation, and control systems, the Volpe roundtable will consider the following areas of inquiry:

  • Are there systems that should not be automated, even though automation is possible?
  • How can we eliminate or reduce human error by adjusting the role of the human operator?
  • Does the process of automation shift the potential source of human error from the operator to the designer?
  • As operators become more and more reliant on information systems, where does responsibility lie if the information is incorrect or untimely and how do we address lack of system flexibility to real-time changes and information overload?
  • An organization's safety culture has a profound impact on safety impacts. How do leaders and supervisors of human automation systems maintain checks and balances to ensure that accidents are less frequent and less severe?

Updated: Friday, July 18, 2014