Living Systems

Advanced Human Machine Interfaces

Technical Applications


A number of integrated systems have been proposed or designed for situations where a human needs to be considered as a necessary part of the system. In such cases, the human- machine interface is a critical component of the system. Such systems typically produce much more data than a human is able to digest in a time-critical situation, so the main job of the interface is to present the data in a form easily understandable by the human and to provide an easy means of interacting with the system.


Advanced work on the human- machine interface was initially done by the Department of Defense because of the need to support pilots in combat situations, but as automation and information intensity increase in other fields, human-machine interfaces become increasingly important to the safety and efficiency in a variety of work places. The field of human factors focuses on human capabilities, behavior and performance while interacting with engineered systems and environments. While the classic perception of human factors deals with aircraft cockpit displays and ergonomics, today it is a design oriented discipline that covers the range of human interaction with complex systems and environments such as the control rooms of power plants, air traffic control, manufacturing, and telecommunications networks. In future "highly automated systems," when staff size is small and the operating environment stressful, the cognitive demands of large, complex and dynamic nonlinear or digital systems quickly outstrip the control capacity of the unaided human. Neglecting human factors can result in labor- intensive operations and increased operating costs, high workload and fatigue, and higher rates accidents resulting from human error. These problems are far from trivial and they can be life threatening.


Both the assessment techniques and the decision support aids can be applied to a wide range of task design and training situations, and should be of value in both the transportation and industrial process control environments. Advances in human-machine interface technologies will lead to greater productivity and greater safety in U.S. industry. This technology is also critical for warfighting in the "information-intensive" battlefield.


The DOD Crew System Ergonomics Information Analysis Center, NASA's Space and Flight Human Factors groups, and their affiliated universities and support contractors have been the leaders in the development of advanced human-machine interface. While the information has been widely available, industry has only recently shown a broader interest in incorporating it in system design. While the European community has been more amenable to standards activities such as video display terminal standards and workstation ergonomics, the U.S. has developed a substantial body of knowledge that could be more effectively exploited in the design of large systems and consumer products. Japanese industry has shown some interest in the field and has increased its research funding but the U.S. efforts are so much greater that the U.S. lead in this area is increasing.