Why Study Human Factors? (James C. Ferraro)

James Ferraro


The reason I believe it is so important to study human factors, and ultimately what drew me to the subject, is the critical role it plays in keeping people safe. As someone who is particularly risk-averse, I was drawn toward a field of study dedicated to reducing human error and eliminating risk. It is an area of study that has existed since engineers had to redesign airplanes in World War II, and tackles issues that will be relevant for years to come, such as how humans interact with artificial intelligence (AI) and robots. Human factors research has been critical in the design of new technologies and devices, accounting for our strengths and weaknesses as human beings to ensure success and prevent negative outcomes. It does not stop at identifying the ‘how’ of an incident or mistake, but seeks to ‘why’ it happened and ‘what’ can be done to prevent a repeat occurrence. This research will continue to be important as the capabilities of technology and AI seem to increase exponentially over time. Human factors researchers studying its application in transportation systems are now solving problems related to automated vehicles driven by automation and AI. Technologies that are far from perfect and still commit some critical (and highly publicized) errors. The shortcomings of modern automated vehicles make the presence of a human at the center of the system essential. Someone still needs to be paying attention to step in when needed and make corrective actions when automation fails. So, from self-driving cars to remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) that are expanding in application by the day, it is critical to understand how to best design systems to optimize human performance. In these situations, human factors research helps solve problems related to loss of situation awareness, fluctuations in workload, and spatial orientation, among other things. These problems appear to be ubiquitous across many complex automated systems, highlighting again how the true extent of the field of human factors cannot be understated. It is an area that will need to receive attention from future designers and engineers as we continue to create machines with increased capabilities. I believe that human factors is (or should be) the foundation upon which any tool or technology is created.”


Key References:

de Winter, J. C. F., & Hancock, P. A. (2021). Why human factors science is demonstrably necessary: historical and evolutionary foundations. Ergonomics, 1-17.

Lee, J. D., & See, K. A. (2004). Trust in automation: Designing for appropriate reliance. Human factors, 46(1), 50-80.

Mouloua, M., Ferraro, J..C., Kaplan, A., Mangos, P., & Hancock, P. A. (2019). Human factors issues regarding trust in UAS operation, selection, and training. In M. Mouloua & P. A. Hancock (Eds.) Human Performance in Automated and Autonomous Systems: Current Theory and Methods. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Mouloua, M., Gilson, R., & Hancock, P. (2003). Human-centered design of unmanned aerial vehicles. Ergonomics in Design, 11(1), 6-11.

Parasuraman, R., Molloy, R., & Singh, I. L. (1993). Performance consequences of automation-induced ‘complacency’. The International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 3(1), 1-23.