Optimizing the Balance Between Task Automation and Human Manual Control in Simulated Submarine Track Management

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Abstract

Automation can improve operator performance and reduce workload, but can also degrade operator situation awareness (SA) and the ability to regain manual control. In 3 experiments, we examined the extent to which automation could be designed to benefit performance while ensuring that individuals maintained SA and could regain manual control. Participants completed a simulated submarine track management task under varying task load. The automation was designed to facilitate information acquisition and analysis, but did not make task decisions. Relative to a condition with no automation, the continuous use of automation improved performance and reduced subjective workload, but degraded SA. Automation that was engaged and disengaged by participants as required (adaptable automation) moderately improved performance and reduced workload relative to no automation, but degraded SA. Automation engaged and disengaged based on task load (adaptive automation) provided no benefit to performance or workload, and degraded SA relative to no automation. Automation never led to significant return-to-manual deficits. However, all types of automation led to degraded performance on a nonautomated task that shared information processing requirements with automated tasks. Given these outcomes, further research is urgently required to establish how to design automation to maximize performance while keeping operators cognitively engaged.

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