America’s Cup – Fighter jets, foils and human factors
The speed of reaction of a fighter pilot in combat has always been a matter of life and death. So when defence and aerospace companies design the control systems for modern military fast jets they are very, very careful to ensure that nothing gets between the pilot and the plane. The design of the interface must present no barriers to the human’s interaction with the machine.
The field of technology that applies itself to this task is called Human Factors and BAE Systems are a leading exponent – these are the people who know how best to present information in high pressured, high speed situations, just like racing the new foiling America’s Cup Class boats.
A member of Land Rover BAR’s Technical Innovation Group (TIG), BAE Systems was an obvious collaborator when the team’s designers and sailors wanted to measure their control system interfaces against the state of the art in military fighter jets; honed in a field where everything is staked on quick reflexes.
Land Rover BAR launched their Technical Innovation Group (TIG) with PA Consulting Group to bring together the very best in British design, technology and innovation to help bring the America’s Cup home to Britain. The TIG team has begun several projects with the member companies – such as Jaguar Land Rover – and the Human Factors investigation with BAE Systems is one of the first.
The Head of Human Factors at the Military Aircraft Division at BAE Systems is Jean Page, and she has been assigned to conduct a study centering on how the sailor / boat interface can be best designed to optimise performance, both improving sailing and reducing the cognitive burden on the sailing team.
“Our initial discussions with the Land Rover BAR team were focused on the Human Machine Interface technologies that we use in aviation, and how these could be integrated into the America’s Cup Class boat,” commented Page. “However, we’ve really stepped back from this to consider what information and controls the crew need to complete their tasks effectively. When we have a clear view of these requirements, it’ll be easier to identify technologies that can be used to enhance human performance; whether this be faster reaction time, better decision making or reduced errors.”
The project will run through several stages and after an initial assessment of the actions involved in a particular manoeuvre will move onto assessing some of the ways in which the sailor’s interaction with the boat might be improved. The team will look at communications, to find ways in which technology can enhance both person-to-person communications, and audio feedback from the control systems.
Control panel layout and design will be reviewed to ensure that they are optimised for all potential users and conditions. The team will analyse how controls can be better designed, what display systems are most appropriate and the best way to present information, perhaps with changes in symbology and the coding of content. The project will assess all forms of technology, including those novel to the marine world.
“The key to selecting the right technologies is appreciating the cues used by the crew and determining how technology can present these cues in a way for optimal human perception and processing, decision making and finally action,” added Page. “Some of the early candidates identified include improvements in voice communication between crew members on the boat, perhaps using bone conduction devices. We can also use spatial localisation of sounds to make it easier to determine who is speaking, and the use of ‘tapping’ devices on the skin as an alert.