Situation awareness implications of adaptive automation for information processing in an air traffic control-related task
The objective of this research was to assess the effectiveness of adaptive automation (AA) for supporting information processing (IP) in a complex, dynamic control task by defining a measure of situation awareness (SA) sensitive to differences in the forms of automation. The task was an air traffic control (ATC)-related simulation and was developed to present four different modes of automation of IP functions, including information acquisition, information analysis, decision making and action implementation automation, as well as a completely manual control mode. A total of 16 participants were recruited for a pilot study and primary experiment. The pilot assessed the sensitivity and reliability of the Situation Awareness Global Assessment Technique (SAGAT) for describing AA support of the IP functions. Half of the participants were used in the primary experiment, which refined the SA measure and described the implications of AA for IP on SA using the ATC-like simulation. Participants were exposed to all forms of automation and manual control. AA conditions matched operator workload states to dynamic control allocations in the primary task. The pilot did not reveal significant differences in SA among the various AA conditions. In the primary experiment, participant recall of aircraft was cued and relevance weights were assigned to aircraft at the time of simulation freezes. The modified measure of SA revealed operator perception and Total SA to improve when automation was applied to the information acquisition function. In both experiments, performance in the ATC-related task simulation was significantly superior when automation was applied to information acquisition and action implementation (sensory and motor processing), as compared to automation of cognitive functions, specifically information analysis. The primary experiment revealed information analysis and decision-making automation to cause higher workload, attributable to visual demands of displays.
The results of this research may serve as a general guide for the design of adaptive automation functionality in the aviation industry, particularly for information processing support in air traffic control tasks.