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Vol 56 No. 10 | Sept. 2004
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Psychology’s Strybel to Direct Research Center

Psychology’ professor Tom Strybel is directing the Advanced Air Vehicle/Air Traffic Management Simulation Research Center (AAV/ATM SRC) at CSULB with the support of approximately $200,000 in donations and contracts from The Boeing Company’s Southern California Air Force Systems and Huntington Beach Site organizations.

The award consists of 23 high-end computer workstations, $31,000 in start-up costs and a $48,000 grant for initial simulation projects. AAV/ATM SRC is also receiving specially designed simulation software from the NASA Ames Research Center (estimated at several million dollars in value).

The AAV/ATM Simulation Research Center received its funding last spring, thanks in large part to the efforts of Jack Dwyer, an Associate Technical Fellow at Boeing and part-time lecturer in psychology at CSULB. AAV/ATM SRC will participate in joint air traffic management simulations with Boeing and the NASA Ames Research Center.

“We will be doing unpiloted air vehicle and airspace simulations on the second floor of the psychology building,” said Strybel, who was instrumental in setting up the department’s new master’s program in Human Factors. “One of the reasons the center is here and not in the College of Engineering is the importance of human factor issues in air traffic management. Human factors optimize the relationships between people and machines, and machines can mean anything from books to fighter jets.

"Any place where people interact with technology is the proper subject for human factors application. Students will assist in the operations of the center by learning to perform pilot and air traffic controller tasks and becoming familiar with the human factors issues in these areas, thus preparing them for future positions in aerospace human factors. Our masters’ candidates also will be able to use the center for research and thesis projects when simulations are not being run.”

Exemplifying the type of research the lab will conduct is NASA Ames’ program investigating “Free Flight,” a concept for increasing air capacity.

“It evaluates an increase in air capacity by providing pilots with more information and giving them more responsibility for navigation decisions,” Strybel explained.

“Pilots could use that new information to make decisions that only air traffic controllers can make today, such as a change in flight path or altitude. How will the information be displayed? What happens if they are looking at displays when they ought to be looking out the window?”

The center will explore a world where airports get busier. “If new decision-making technology makes it possible for planes to fly closer and more safely, that means more passengers and more passengers mean more money. The issue is, how close can planes come and still maintain the equivalent levels of flight safety employed today? Everyone hopes that, with new technology and decision aids, the system can become even more efficient.”

New technology will have an immense impact on the air traffic control of tomorrow. “What we’re doing represents a system shift,” he said. “All of a sudden, air traffic controllers might not have sole responsibility.”

While physical workload for 21st century pilots has shrunk, mental workload has not. “Workload is an important issue for both air traffic controllers and pilots,” he said. “Today’s pilots and controllers are carrying heavy cognitive loads. That is especially true during certain portions of the flight such as take-off and landing when there are many aircraft coming together. Measuring that is some of what we’ll do.”

Other issues to be explored include the role of unpiloted aircraft in the skies of the future. “There is interest in allowing unpiloted air vehicles access to commercial air space,” he said. “Thanks to the support of Boeing and NASA Ames, we can explore these issues.”

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