The air traffic control domain is facing higher levels of automation. This will shift air traffic controller tasks to more monitoring and may cause negative impacts such as out-of-the-loop phenomena (OOTL) of controllers.

The Horizon 2020 SESAR project MINIMA (Mitigating Negative Impacts of Monitoring high levels of Automation) is partly funded by SESAR Joint Undertaking (Grant Number 699282) and will help to understand and mitigate OOTL phenomena of air traffic controllers in highly automated environments especially Terminal Manoeuvring Areas (TMA). MINIMA covers a 24 months period and started in May 2016 with a kick-off meeting at the Braunschweig site of DLR.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR), le centre français de recherche aérospatiale (ONERA), Bologna university (UNIBO), and BrainSigns srl (BrainSigns) work together to achieve the aforementioned goal.

With the use of e.g. electroencephalography, eye-tracking and other measures a “level” for vigilance and attention will be computed. Adaptive automation, function allocation, additional tasks, or attention guidance in case required area of attention is not equal to actual area of attention will influence the controllers’ behavior to ensure safe and secure ATC operations also during rare automation failures.

The research project’s objective is to improve comprehension of out-of-the-loop (OOTL) performance problem especially according to a future air traffic scenario. In MINIMA, we will develop tools to detect and compensate the negative impact of this phenomenon and a carefully selected distribution of tasks between the human agent and the automated system for the selected use case of a highly automated Terminal Manoeuvring Area (TMA).

Specific Tools and a reasonable task distribution are required to exploit performance increases resulting from higher levels of automation while keeping the ATCO situation awareness on a high level to ensure safe and secure operations. MINIMA will develop a dynamic task allocation which is foreseen as a major requirement to keep the human ‘into-the-loop’, perfectly aware of the traffic situation. As a consequence of the developed concept, not all tasks, that could be automated, will be automated every time. Together with this function allocation approach, designing more cooperative artificial agent is also considered as a major requirement to avoid out of the loop performance problem. In this sense, the MINIMA project will identify the minimal information required to be provided to operators in order to support the coordination between human operators and automation. Also, a real-time monitoring system that constantly measures the operators’ vigilance levels is required and will be developed in MINIMA. Finally a new set of procedures will be developed which is needed to cope with the new and dynamic task distribution and, most importantly, with possible automation failures or the misinterpretation of the situation by the system. These fall-back procedures are required as higher levels of automation will go along with procedures that cannot be followed by operators without the support of automation even when they are kept in the loop.

Objectives and basic ideas were presented on a poster at the Sixth SESAR Innovation Days 2016 in Delft: Poster_MINIMA_SID2016