New lab focuses on human factors in complex, high-tech environments
A visit to campus last fall by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger highlighted the need for the work being done in the College of Technology’s new Applied Human Factors Research Laboratory.
Sullenberger landed his US Airways Airbus 320 in the Hudson River in January 2009 after he flew through a flock of geese and lost engine power. In his book written after the event, he credits his Purdue education and experience in industrial psychology with helping him in his career and his mission to create safer flying environments.
“Captain Sullenberger talked about industrial psychology and the role human behavior plays in work performance,” said Erin Bowen, assistant professor of industrial technology. “It is really important with something as complex as commercial aircraft. In the lab, we can take issues like fatigue and stress and study them. How do we quantify and measure the impact on performance? One is a safety component, and one is a performance efficiency component.”
In the summer of 2010, Bowen helped expand the college’s existing ergonomics lab into a more comprehensive research and teaching space focused on applied human factors. The lab is housed in the Purdue Airport terminal. The research and teaching that occurs in the lab focuses on how human factors affect performance in complex and high-technology environments, such as aviation, manufacturing, or medicine.
Students still use the lab to study and demonstrate the benefits of ergonomics, but it is now covered as part of a larger focus.
“I try to give our students a sense of the whole process. For example, we tour the flight simulators and discuss the glass panel layouts. They learn how to apply tools we discuss in class,” Bowen said. “There is a lot of awareness building. It makes it much more vivid for them, and they have a better awareness of work-flow design.”
Bowen is assisting with research being conducted in the Department of Aviation Technology, both with the Hangar of the Future project and the department’s new Data Acquisition Center.
For the Hangar of the Future, she is assisting with data collection that will help identify how human factors could affect the implementation of new technologies in aircraft maintenance workflow.
She is also working with Mike Nolan, professor and associate head of the department of aviation technology, to help design a system that will incorporate increased flight data into useful systems for analysis. The Data Acquisition Center has been collecting flight data from Purdue’s fleet of smart airplanes since November.
“We are gathering incredible amounts of data from the smart planes,” Nolan said. “We went from nothing to all sorts of information. Now we need to figure out how to analyze it. There are no baselines yet.”
Bowen has helped create a general model that can be implemented over the next five years. It is designed to integrate the collected data into the flight training system to inform teaching techniques, recognize patterns for safety and effectiveness, and identify student issues that can be corrected.
The lab has worked with professors from other academic disciplines as well, such as engineering education, psychology and education studies. Bowen hopes to take advantage of additional cross-disciplinary opportunities in the future.
- Applied Human Factors Laboratory web site
- Sullenberger to speak at Purdue commencement
- Sullenberger receives Neil Armstrong Medal of Excellence
- Boiler Bytes video featuring Sullenberger and the Armstrong Medal