Monday, December 29, 2008

Pilot Burnout Flying Predator Drones

Pilots, flying Predator drones directed at targets in Afghanistan and Iraq from the safety of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, "are at least as fatigued as crews deployed to Iraq." This is among the findings presented in a series of reports by Air Force Lt. Col. Anthony P. Tvaryanas. Teleoperating drones apparently leads to higher fatigue for the crew than actually manning an Awacs surveillance plane.

Tvaryanas speculates that "sensory isolation" from the immediate feedback of being in a plane contributes to the mental exhaustion of the teleoperators. He also examined 95 mishaps and safety incidents with the Predator. Tvaryanas reported that 57% of the crew-member-related incidents were "consistent with situation awareness errors associated with perception of the environment." In other words, people are poor at grasping an environment in which they are not actually located. Researches stressing the importance of embodied cognition will appreciate these findings. They are also likely to foster an interest in making drones more autonomous in the hopes of decreasing mishaps arising from errors caused by remote crew members.

The New York Times Magazine reported on this research in their December 14th 2005 article on the "Year in Ideas."

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