CAMBRIDGE, MA—One of the hottest fields in engineering right now is human-systems engineering. Interest in the discipline is growing among government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration, and professionals in cybersecurity, defense and elsewhere.
Human-systems engineering involves understanding and optimizing the interaction of human abilities, expectations and limitations with work environments and system design. Restaurants that use meal-making robots and army units that deploy reconnaissance drones have benefited from adopting principles of human-systems engineering.
Draper engineers say the failure to consider human factors early in the design process is resulting in higher costs, longer development cycles and delays in delivering field-ready products, technologies and systems.
Kelly Hale, Ph.D., group lead for User Experience and Performance at Draper, said, “The engineering community is increasingly prioritizing human factors and user experience and the potential benefits they can provide in streamlining system development and customer adoption. However, there’s still a gap when it comes to providing designers, developers and program managers with human factors tools and methods they can use.”
Hale served as chair of special events at the recent I/ITSEC—Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference—where she coordinated 49 panel and interactive sessions with government and industry leaders to discuss the future of modeling and simulation for training and education, and presented a workshop with Amy Taber from Gemini Technologies, Inc., on “Operational Impact: Quantifying Training Solution Value.” Hale has published several articles and books on human-systems engineering and researched how new technologies, like virtual and augmented reality, can improve a person’s knowledge retention and training to lead to operational effectiveness and efficiency gains.
“Our research shows that human factors engineering can have real impacts on how training solutions are designed to optimize transfer of knowledge and skills to operations,” Hale said. Benefits to integrating human factors earlier in the development process include accelerating a system’s field readiness, reducing training costs and delivering training products at the moment of need, she added.
Integrating human factors earlier in the development process can result in benefits beyond the system designers, including faster adoption and higher user trust in a given system, machine or technology, according to Kelly Sprehn, Ph.D., principal human systems engineer at Draper.
“Failure to consider human factors in engineering can be detrimental to any project and can lead to a delayed go live date, a product that does not achieve desired functionality, higher life cycle costs and distrust between the human and machine,” said Sprehn, a panelist at the recent Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 66th International Annual Meeting.
“Creating the underlying infrastructure, tools, architectures and metrics that we use to develop these human-machine teaming systems will establish a foundation from which we can begin to realize the advantage of human machine teams for the multitude of missions and operations,” the panelists said.