Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Mary (Missy) Cummings, who directs the Humans and Automation Laboratory (HAL), is developing improved systems for human-computer interaction. Her area of focus involves making it easier for humans to supervise automatic control systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in the execution of cognitive tasks. "It's about offloading skill-based tasks so that people can focus specifically on knowledge-based tasks, such as determining whether a potential sniper is a good or bad guy by using the UAV to identify him," she says.
Cummings concentrates on how design precepts, such as display screens, can impact attention span and other supervisory control factors when humans operate complex systems. Over the past 12 months, Cummings and her students have designed an iPhone application capable of controlling a small UAV, enabling the device to be flown by any phone operator. The HAL group also is devising models of human tedium to help design systems to prevent people who oversee automatic control technologies from becoming bored.
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