"Gee Whiz" Technology
By Fred Workley
Because I write articles for aircraft maintenance personnel, I read a lot. I continually come across new ideas and applications that we may eventually see on the hangar floor.
An excerpt from CHI Companion 95, in an article by Jane Siegel, written for Technician (Spring 1996), caught my attention.
This article discussed the study of human-computer (HCI) or computer-human interactions (CHI); as well as "hypertext," which is the display of information in a computer format instead of as a conventional, plain text, standard-English document.
The study looked at aircraft maintenance workers wearing visual interfaces and collaborative systems to support troubleshooting and repair work. The results showed that there were improvements in coordination and ease of work when maintenance personnel used the hypertext, video, and audio capability. Wearable computers and telecommunications allow maintenance personnel at remote sites to access information and contact everyone who can help them get the aircraft flying again.
An aircraft maintenance technician may clip a very small (1.5 pound), wearable computer system on a belt. This computer will have rapid response, speech input (with possible speech recognition), wireless audio, and a head-mounted visual display with fine resolution for hands-free operation. All components are miniaturized and supported by a radio network. The technician will have immediate access to current procedures from the maintenance manual and the latest parts information with aircraft effectivity.
Along with better coordination and gaining faster access to information, these new technologies may also:
(1) Spread organizational expertise among the technicians
(2) Provide fast access to procedural, process, and schematic information for problem solving from local and off-site sources
(3) Support process re-engineering
(4) Improve organizational memory
The goal of the system is to improve task performance. Most important, I see these systems as a way to reduce potential human errors. The research on the human-system interaction focuses on task performance, displays that are easy-to-read, and hands-free operation. Other factors involve ease of sharing information and adapting this technology to a particular organization with its unique corporate culture.
In evaluating these systems in an organization, some of your considerations are:
(1) Can your people adapt from using paper manuals to on-line, hypertext computer manuals in a paperless environment?
(2) Are maintenance tasks performed equally efficient solo or with a collaborative, remote helper?
(3) Does the presence of a video link providing a real time image and two way communications capability between the field technician and the helper/expert/product representative by permitting the helper to see what the technician sees save time and increase accuracy?
One of the concerns regarding these systems are the individual maintenance technician's adaptation to the system due to differences with the individual's eyes. It takes some getting used to seeing this type of on-line application. Initially, it is more difficult to read the applicable text and see the diagrams on these systems than on paper. Sometimes, technicians link to the hypertext, which gives more details than they need to define the existing problem with the aircraft, before they get an overall perspective. You need some idea of the problem from troubleshooting that leads you toward the specific task or procedure needed to fix the problem.
However, with more familiarity using this wearable computer system, the aircraft technician's time to complete the task and accuracy may be improved. Army engineers are using commercial off-the-shelf telemaintenance systems to repair communications equipment in the field. This telemaintenance system is made up of a small video camera and a modem with external probes for testing electronics. The user can configure the system to use telephone lines, dedicated data lines, or satellite links.
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