One day, you might take a flight from Saskatoon to Dublin. There will be in-flight movies, tiny difficult-to-open bags of peanuts, flight attendants distributing cheap headphones and tiny pillows, and free tiny cans of wine once you’re over international waters. There will, however, be one major difference. On this flight, there will be no pilot.
At least, such a thing is possible. But not until a whole lot more studying is done on the subject. Some of those studies are currently being conducted by Dr. Gregory Craig and a team of human factors researchers at the National Research Council of Canada.
Gregory has been involved in a wide variety of research projects. He’s done research on night vision goggles, displays for infrared cameras for search and rescue, and the design of symbolic information displays for pilots. Currently, he’s involved in examining ‘trust in automation’ to assess pilots’ trust in automatic flight systems. This ranges from basic elements like an off-the-shelf autopilot to looking at fully autonomous (no pilots) flight.
Gregory spent his formative years at Carleton University, earning a PhD in Cognitive Psychology in 1997. While his current role is mostly unrelated to his studies, he credits the people he met along the way for getting him to where he is today.
“There is a wide gulf between what I studied in university and the type of research that I do now. The main elements of my university studies that helped were basic experimental design, document editing and data analysis. Much of my training in applied research came from one of my supervisors who was employed at the Communications Research Centre and an adjunct at Carleton. He encouraged me to participate in several of the applied research projects that he worked on for CRC. The other source of applied research thinking came from a course for which I was a teaching assistant at Carleton. The course was a basic introduction to sensation and perception, but the prof teaching the course had a large number of industrial design students in the class. For those students, the prof took the time to explain how basic elements of sensation and perception could be applied to the design of systems and products intended for use by the general population.”
One might expect a psychologist to lead project teams, analyze data, submit research proposals, prepare reports and presentations, and manage projects. But maybe not to design and conduct flight tests, evaluate advanced cockpit technologies, and explore human factors issues for pilots, crew and passengers.
So think about Gregory Craig the next time you’re on a plane – it might be his work that enhanced the technology in the cockpit, or designed the display used to navigate. And while you’re doing that, you might want to check to see if, up front in the cockpit, there’s still a pilot.