Adaptive Automation

Human related isssues with automation

Currently in the field of aviation, there are serious issues relating to automation and human–machine system errors. These issues are associated with certain various deficiencies occurring in the human operator states. These deficiencies include a decline in attention, complacency and a loss of situation awareness (SA).

Human out-of-the-loop

Human out-of-the-loop (OOTL) performance is the principal factor that contributes to human performance problems in general, and is characterized by a lessening ability of the human operator to intercede in the system control loops when needed and to resume manual control while overseeing the automated systems.

Designing adaptive automation

In order to facilitate and preserve good SA, adaptive automation (AA) has been offered as a way to moderate operator workload and maintain it within acceptable limits, based on the character of the task or working environment. There is however, difficulty in designing the automation to optimize both SA and workload due to the relationship between them. There are two extremes that can occur in terms of the degree of automation used:

High level automation

When there are high levels of system automation, creating a condition of low workload, the operators can experience tiredness and boredom due to little requirement to think and be interested in the control tasks. The operators are required to passively monitor computer actions instead of actively processing tasks and this decreased involvement in the task can compromise operator SA. This means that in the case of system failure or an unpredicted event, an operator may have difficulty reorienting themselves to system functioning, thus compromising the performance of automated systems under failure modes.

Low level automation

In the case of low level system automation, such as complete manual control, cognitive overload can occur where operators need to carry out complex tasks, or a large number of tasks. A low level of SA and performance can occur due to the high workload caused by the effort to keep up with a system that is constantly moving and changing. The operator can also be overwhelmed by feelings of frustration and a loss of confidence in being able to complete the task due to the increasing requirements beyond what an operator can manage, the operator may then become disconnected from the task, with a resultant loss in SA. This again results in poor human–machine system performance.

The first problem can be attributed to system and task design, whereas the second may be the result of an operator’s reactions to a difficult task. SA and workload vary independently between these two limits, making it necessary, in designing good AA, to identify the optimal workload in which there is a good level of operator SA and a good overall system performance.


Tsang, P. S., & Vidulich, M. A. (2003). Principles and practice of aviation psychology. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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