Connectivity, Human Factors Drive Next-Gen Cockpit

By John Croft
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Honeywell is investigating the new modalities as well. “As you get more different ways to interact with the systems and the aircraft, we want to make sure we do that up-front work of how pilots interact with systems, and what is the best way to present information at different times,” says Esposito.

The presentation, as it turns out, might need to be customized to the pilot's upbringing. “What are potentially regional differences in how people grow up, or how they understand certain visual or audio cues?” he says. “If you look at human factors, it's not only ergonomics, but its ethnocentricity or ethnic cultural pieces. We have done some things we can't talk about yet, but it involves customizing some products for different areas around the world, because of how different people react under stressful situations.”

Esposito says Honeywell by necessity is growing its ranks of human factors experts. “We always have had our pilot experts, but now we have such a confluence of data on the aircraft, and the ability to show so much data, that it's more critically important to show that data logically to pilots—so they can understand and absorb it quickly.”

Bob Witwer, vice president of advanced technology at Honeywell, says the “big challenge” in having a “totally connected” aircraft is translating data to actionable information. “Ten years and beyond, will have to develop more expert systems to sift this data out and provide actionable information to pilots,” he says, adding that there will likely be new FAA certification approaches needed. “I think we're going to start to approach and get into, over time, situations where full determinism of every single operation will start to become geometrically more complex,” he says. “We'll see more automation of the certification process.”

Honeywell, Saab Sensis and other companies are working with NASA to define and develop automated certification criteria, which would be needed to bound the performance and safety of so-called indeterminate systems, those with an infinite number of output states depending on the input and system state.

For the new technologies it is developing, Honeywell is placing more emphasis than in the past on the impacts they have on the mission and pilot.

“For the cockpit of the future, we try to understand what's the environment the crew will be in as opposed to 'let's put cool technology in to give new capability,'” says Witwer. “There's going to be so much data available to that aircraft, we have to make sure the cockpit systems we build will make it easy and intuitive for the pilot to constantly know what's going on inside and outside the aircraft. The pilot also must have a clear and intuitive understanding of whether there is action he wants or needs to take, and the cockpit systems must make it crystal clear to him what to do. That's incredibly hard to do well.”

Witwer says a question Honeywell is asked “a lot” is whether glass and touch screens will proliferate across the entire cockpit. “We had a customer that told us that for their next airplane they wanted to have even more glass,” he says. “We asked, 'Are you sure? Is more really better?'” He says modalities like touch screens or voice recognition cannot be “gimmicky.” “We've got to make the modality match the mission. We have to do mission analysis. That includes nominal situations, off–nominal and abnormal situations,” he says. “We also have to provision for backups. What if that modality isn't available? Will you have appropriate backups to keep the pilot's workload low?”

He says when Honeywell's human-centered systems “tech guys” look at additions to the cockpit, there are four criteria that must be met: Does it give the pilot what he needs, only what he needs and only when he needs it? And does it give him the information in a way that is intuitive, unambiguous and easy to understand? If not, it's clutter.”

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