Watch where you're going!
As the saying goes, knowledge is power; and if you're the navigator of a naval vessel moving at over 70 miles per hour, you need to know - in an instant - where you are and where to go next. But when the cockpits of these boats were designed, no one knew whether the information being presented to the navigator on computer displays and instruments was easy to marry up with what was actually visible through the windows. Now we do, as Odd Sveinung Hareide, manager at the Royal Norwegian Navy Competence Centre, explained to Chris Smith.
Odd - So the navigator of a high speed craft like the Norwegian navy corvettes, which is known as the Skjold-class is quite demanding because inside the ship there is a lot of equipment. The navigator sits in a chair and in front of him he has three screens and on these screens he's got the electronic charts, the radar, and all types of sensors which are feeding through the system, so it's a complex environment to work in. Also, of course, the world around him is moving very fast because he's travelling at speeds up to 70 miles per hour and he needs to control that the ship is in the right position all of the time. So he has to continuously monitor the position of the ship.
Chris - Therefore one would be looking out of the window, comparing that to what the charts on the screen are saying and the radar images, and trying to put all of that information through that person - man or woman's mind very quickly. How did you try to work out what the person was doing when they were doing that?
Odd - The method of collecting this information was the eye tracking glass which was glasses that you fit to the navigator. It looks like reading glasses - there are cameras that recognises where the person looks. So if he looks outside, you get a hit on the outside and if he looks at the screen, you get a hit on the screen. We did this both in sea trials and in simulator studies. We had approximately four hours of recording.
Chris - What patterns emerged - where do the people look, where do they spend most of their time staring at?
Odd - This has been a concern in the maritime community with regards to what they call the playstation mode, which is young navigators tend to rely on the information from the computer screen instead of looking out the window at the surroundings of the ship. So our worry was that a lot of the attention was with regard to the inside of the ship and displays, but what we found was that it's actually 65 percent of the time the navigator is looking outside and continuously monitoring the surroundings of the ship. But still, 35 percent of the time is used looking at something else.
Chris - Can you get a sort of finer grained analysis out in the sense that say, if I was looking at a map on my phone and then trying to work out if I was in the right place. I might look at the phone and then look back at the street and then look back at the street to see if what I thought I'd seen was what I should be seeing. Can you see those sorts of double journeys the eyes make backwards and forward between the equipment and the outside world to see how quickly people got the information and were able to process it?
Odd - When analysing the eye tracking data, and this is one of the features you can get and we call it a look back. If you, for example, look at some of the equipment inside, then you look outside and scan the environment. Maybe you look at another equipment but you look back at the same equipment, and it could be an indication of poor visibility.
Chris - Because the people who design these user interfaces and the way data is displayed, very often aren't the navigators or the pilots of these craft themselves. They are people who work with them occasionally and they present something that they think will be fit for purpose. But it's not until you actually get someone using it and you find, in fact, it's not as good as it could be.
Odd - That's a very good observation Chris, and I totally agree. It's very important issue that the engineers that are designing the systems often haven't been to sea at all. They are very good at the designing complex systems, but they have never sat in the chair that has to take the ship forward.
Chris - And are you going to sort of close that audit loop now where you've got you data, you know what they're not looking at what's going on because they're looking at a computer screen, you know when that's happening? So can, or will you now be using that to optimise the way that the cockpit is formatted and the way that the data is displayed on these computer screens?
Odd - Yes. This process is called a human centred design process. So what we are doing now, with cadets is that we have them for retrofit. So now we have collected this data and we've seen some things that need to be adjusted to make the navigator's job easier. In the retrofit process this being done and, hopefully, this will benefit the navigator in his work.
Chris - And lastly - mobile phones and people driving have got enormous attention, especially here in the UK. And people are saying it's because they're very complicated to use, very fiddly, and it takes people's attention away. It's the same problem isn't it?
Odd - It's the exact same problem and that's why it's important that we take a look and understand better how this should work, especially making design in the human into the technology remember that they have to interact.