Monday, October 26, 2009

Slumber Land

As "Experts Puzzle over How Flight Overshot Airport" in the case of the Northwest flight to Minneapolis that lost contact with airport traffic controllers after Denver and traveled one hundred fifty miles past its destination before communication was resumed in Wisconsin. Many believe that the pilots fell asleep, and from IT safety expert Markku Häkkinen, who has done research on auditory warning systems in airplanes, I learned that having pilots nod off is more common than many travelers would like to believe.

In a posting called "Siren's Song," I described some of Häkkinen's work, but over dinner at the ISCRAM conference I learned that he has also compiled studies about sound systems for waking up pilots. The challenge for companies like Alertness Solutions, of course, is how to create a wake-up signal that encourages alertness rather than sense-overwhelming confusion. And, obviously, an alarm loud enough to be heard in the cabin might panic passengers. Besides, as Häkkinen points out, sometimes we actually tune out alarms in the higher volume ranges. Apparently, according to Häkkinen, some researchers are experimenting with having the voice of a loved one be programmed into the cockpit, should a wake-up call be needed.

Update: CNN reports that the "stray jet's pilots were on laptops," which may intensify current debates about balancing responsibilities to passengers with access to ubiquitous computing technologies in a complex attention economy that has already been at issue in train and metro transportation. Now the New York Times says that an impromptu tutorial about the scheduling system being implemented after the Northwest-Delta merger on a laptop was to blame.

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Blogger Jardinero1 said...

Some people I know in the aviation industry will tell that the simple solution is to remove the auto-pilot from airplanes. Automating a system overmuch encourages lack of attention to the environment. Mission critical systems in nuclear submarines are deliberated designed to be as non-automated as possible. This forces the technicians on the system to stay in tune with what is going on.

2:31 PM  

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