Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

UXPA - Human Factors in Automotive and Aerospace Design

This months UXPA event was at The Telegraph to talk all things human factored. I was intrigued by the title Human Factors in Automotive and Aerospace Design and was very interested to see what we would be covering.

We were also joined by the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, hence the focus on human factors.

Our first speaker was Prof. Joseph Giacomin from Brunel University. I have heard him speak at UXPA before and know he is very engaging, so I was looking forward to his talk. He did not disappoint, talking on Designing Automotive vehicles from the human point of view.

While the motor industry have had 100 or so years to understand the ergonomics of vehicles they have only just started to think about automated vehicles and how humans interact with them.

He thinks we need to answer a few questions about our vehicles before we start designing them.

Firstly do we want a non-thinking vehicle, like the shuttles at Heathrow which just drive round a set loop. Or do we want them to be sentient assistants, in which case designers must think about how anthropologism can help people to trust these vehicles.

There are several layers to this and he thinks it should go right down to what they are called and their gender, all things which people will use to judge, and hopefully trust, the vehicle.

Our next speaker was Suzy Broadbent who works as Human Factors Lead for Research and Technology at BAE Systems Air and talked to us about what is involved in designing fighter plane cockpits. I found this fascinating.

While some of my stakeholders have been hard work I am glad I have not had to work with the pilots that Suzy has. They sound very direct and self assured, although they need to be to do their job.

While the stuff she told us about the old cockpits was interesting; about how they have to last quite a while and things just get shoved in where there is space, not always where it would be best to put it, making me think of some website home pages I have worked on, it was the future cockpit design that really interested me.

This is where they are looking at putting everything into the pilots helmet so that they can just upgrade the software when needed. It also means that the pilots can personalise it to have everything just as they want.

But it is also about giving them the information they need when they need it. With a helmet system the helmet knows where you are looking so can flag things up when you look at them, like what that plane is or where to avoid flying as you will be in the firing zone.

All really exciting stuff, but there are issues like understanding what are conflicts going to be like in the future? And if the computer does more, how does the pilot know who is doing what? How do pilots learn to trust the computer when they cannot go to the bar together after work like they might with a navigator?

I did not think I would find cars and planes to be so interesting but the evenings talks were both brilliant.

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