Summary:

Automation is becoming more prevalent in the military, in hospitals and even in our scaled out web systems. But so far, people still have to control or monitor these systems, which can be a pretty dull job. Research from MIT shows how to make it better.

Rethink Robotics' Baxter
photo: Barb Darrow

“It turns out [boredom is] a much bigger problem in any system where a human is effectively babysitting the automation.” — Mary “Missy” Cummings, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT

Cummings and researchers in MIT’s Humans and Automation Lab are investigating how people interact with automated systems, and in a study to be published in Interacting with Computers, she outlines how distractions may be the key to keeping the pilots focused.

The study and release announcing the results are here, but the topic is one that goes beyond the military. Automation is creeping into our lives in a variety of ways, from robots to help care for the elderly (but overseen by doctors) to factory floors where people no longer have a place. It’s being built into our scaled out computing systems, our telephone networks and any other place we can make it work.

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