Mission Displays to Support the Observability and Directability of Planning Systems

Dudzic, S. and Kilgore, R.

Presented at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Sense and Avoid (SAA) Science and Research Panel, MIT Lincoln LabsLexington, MA (October 2011)

To develop, evaluate, and effectively compare alternative courses of action during replanning events, unmanned systems operators must consider and rapidly respond to myriad constraints imposed by dynamic operational environments, such as weather, airspaces, or other vehicle traffic. These constraints place a high load on operators’ limited attentional resources, demand detailed situation awareness within the changing operational space, and complicate the execution of reactionary replanning activities. The challenges of supervisory control are further exacerbated by the envisioned growth in size and heterogeneity of vehicle teams themselves, as future operators may be responsible for platforms that vary significantly in capabilities. Unfortunately, existing mission displays fail to efficiently address nuanced, safety-critical differences in vehicle capabilities with respect to threats, weather, or vehicle traffic and vehicle plans are rarely related to higher-order mission goals, processes, or operational constraints.

To address the demanding cognitive challenges of supervising teams of vehicles in complex and dynamic operational environments, we are designing and evaluating a set of mission display concepts to enhance the observability (insights into the decision space) and the directability (ability to influence resultant behaviors and outcomes) of the planning systems. These displays leverage the perceptual strengths of human operators by combining simple visual display mechanisms and task-centric display perspectives to rapidly communicate planning-critical information and meta-information to the operator. These displays support the operator’s rapid perception and intuitive understanding and assessment of the impacts of alternative plans on mission safety, and reveal affordances for positively affecting planning processes while minimizing demands on higher-order cognitive processing. As such, these displays are intended to improve the operator’s situation awareness and reduce the cognitive workload of mission replanning, reducing the training and/or manpower requirements for the supervisory control of future, heterogeneous unmanned systems. We are currently working to implement prototypes of these mission display concepts within a representative Navy UAS environment and will be conducting human-in-the-loop studies of mission performance and usability to evaluate the benefits of these displays in comparison to traditional interface approaches.

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