Limitations on the use of eye-tracking data to understand operator awareness
Authors: Randall Mumaw, Dorrit Billman
Abstract: In the last 20 years, a number of accidents and incidents in commercial aviation have pointed to poor flightcrew awareness of basic flight path parameters (e.g., airspeed, bank, pitch). As a result, there is a desire to improve pilot situation awareness and how attention is allocated. Eye-tracking has been a commonly used measure of awareness; it can aid in understanding whether specific indications were fixated, and perhaps how a pilot gathered information (that is, which indications in which sequence).In this paper, we discuss limitations on what eye-tracking data can reveal about pilot awareness and understanding. First, previous studies (e.g., Sarter et al., 2007) have shown that fixation on an indication may not ensure awareness or understanding. Further, an operator may have awareness of information not fixated. Additional measures—such as self-report or control inputs—can help to better establish the extent of pilot awareness and understanding.Second, sequences of fixations (scan patterns) have also become a performance measure. While a small number of recognized scan patterns have been validated for a small set of parameters on the Primary Flight Display (PFD), scan patterns have not been identified to support the broader context of flight path management or flight operations. More important is to understand the full set of drivers underlying the larger pattern of eye fixations; this approach moves away from the idea of well-established scan patterns as a marker of skilled performance and gives a larger role to pilot cognition. Pilots have various reasons to direct attention to specific elements on the interface, such as -feedback tied to control inputs-a check on compliance with flight path targets-a reaction to an alert or a call out-attempt to understand an unexpected indication-assess progress toward a flight path targetThe importance of cognition is further implicated in the finding that pilot interviews show that fixating typically is accompanied by expectation; generally, pilots have a strong expectation of what value or indication they will see, which allows more efficient integration of information and an ability to identify indications that suggest an alternative account of the current system state. We will describe a range of eye-tracking measures and how they should and should not be used.
Keywords: aviation, eye, tracking, awareness
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