The connected aircraft will also require better man-machine relations to help pilots make optimal and safe decisions.
“Ten years ago, we introduced highly interactive flight decks that brought a high degree of capability, but we're still learning how to properly exploit it and the relationship with the human,” says Matt Carrico, senior engineering manager of advanced concepts for Rockwell Collins. “The next 10 years will be optimizing that interaction to balance the capability we provide versus the complexity of using the automation. We need to be more effective at using automation to help the crew accomplish the mission in a way that decreases training, increases awareness, reduces workload and increases safety.”
Key to reducing the workload will be engineering simpler interfaces to the equipment, an improvement that will go into future products, but could also be helpful in legacy cockpits to cut down on “mode confusion,” situations where the pilots become stumped by the seemingly capricious actions of the automation system.
Shapiro brings airline and corporate pilots into his laboratory to look at potential product improvements, one of which is a flight deck simplification. He says one pilot reflected that “the busier he gets, the less he uses” the automation. “That's a big failure for automation” says Shapiro. “Automation should offload you, so you can focus on the piloting tasks.”
How did automation fall out of synch with pilot capabilities?
Shapiro says it is because capabilities historically were introduced with federated boxes “and engineers making what they thought were good decisions. . . . But if they don't understand the pilot's point of reference, they miss the target,” he says. “We're going to reengage the pilots—building a completely pilot-driven interface versus an engineering-driven interface.”
Carrico notes that the industry has been wrestling with simplifying autoflight modes for more than two decades, but there is significant inertia preventing a step change. “Any radical changes to the flight management and autopilot human-machine interface will need to address the mixed fleet operations and cross-training issues caused by having a mix of 'old' and 'new” operational procedures in the fleet,” he says. “There will need to be a compelling cost/benefit story for the airlines to adopt.
The Rockwell Collins's advanced technology team is researching a “revolutionary flight deck” that includes mode simplifications along with increased situational awareness and FAA Next-Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) features like 4-D time elements and self-separation.
“We're looking at multiple interface technologies that let your intentions get into the system faster,” says Shapiro. “You can't take five minutes to do something that should only take three minutes to do when you're getting close to the airport.”