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Information Technologies Based Questionnaire Tool in Human-Automation Systems

Cristina Manresa-Yee
1 UGIVIA, Math and computer Science Department, Universitat Illes Balears
Ed. Anselm Turmeda, Crta. Valldemossa, km. 7.5, Palma, 07122, Spain

Pere Ponsa
Automatic Control Department, Technical School of Vilanova i la Geltru
EPSEVG, Av. Victor Balaguer s/n, Vilanova i la Geltru, 08800, Spain

Ramon Vilanova
Telecommunications and Engineering Systems Department. School of Engineering. Universitat Autonoma of Barcelona
UAB Campus, Bellaterra, 08193, Spain

Álex Pérez
Automatic Control Department, Technical School of Vilanova i la Geltru
EPSEVG, Av. Victor Balaguer s/n, Vilanova i la Geltru, 08800, Spain


In this paper we present an Information Technologies (IT) based questionnaire tool in order to support evaluation activities related to industrial automation. We assess the questionnaire tool by giving special attention to teaching activities at different universities and industrial cooperation, all of them within the industrial automation field. In an initial assessment, the use of an evaluation questionnaire tool within an academic platform allows members from different universities to collaborate and to share knowledge. By means of an example, the Barcelona Tech University in Spain provides support for teaching activities in automation to the ESPE University in Quito, Ecuador. A second case study example is presented in order to show how to detect sources of complexity in human supervisory control room tasks in wastewater treatment plants. The first results show that the interface is effective, easy to use and understand and can help engineering students in a training program to play the role of control room operators and the elicitation of sources of complexity can be useful to improve the interaction between humans and safety-critical systems in the industrial domain.


Display design, questionnaire, automation, supervisory control.

>>Full text
Cristina MANRESA-YEE, Pere PONSA, Ramon VILANOVA, Alex PEREZ, Information Technologies Based Questionnaire Tool in Human-Automation Systems, Studies in Informatics and Control, ISSN 1220-1766, vol. 21 (3), pp. 283-292, 2012.

1. Introduction

Online learning communities are an effective approach of integrating collaboration in online learning environments [1, 2]. Yeh comments that “online learning communities are a collaborative means of achieving shared creation and shared understanding in which mutual exchange between community members is encouraged to support individual and collective learning” [3].

Nowadays, platforms based on information technologies (IT) for teaching purposes (teaching materials, videos, teaching guides, remote laboratories) are frequently used at Universities. For example, the Barcelona Tech University uses an adaptation of the Moodle Platform [4]. In this context, researchers such as Hsu et al [5] are working on the development of objective design criteria for web-based learning platforms. Furthermore, remote laboratories are a current complement in engineering education to provide remote access to experiments: “the evolution of web technologies will benefit effectiveness of remote laboratories” [6, 7].

However, to the best of our knowledge, examples of platforms in engineering education to study complex systems which integrate automation knowledge, human operator skills, information management and supervisory control are not found. This situation is due to the difficulty of having a realistic and low cost system available at the University.

Recent research works in human-automation in academic contexts have been focused on the use of role playing with engineering students and human supervisory control display design [8]. In these areas, integration between industrial informatics and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) enables to improve the systems’ performance. The role playing methodology can be useful in the management of complex systems, due to the fact that human supervisory task in control rooms requires team work and an effective management of abnormal situations. The use of guidelines and a human-centred approach [9] in supervisory control interface design can be useful in order to include ergonomic design considerations at the beginning of the system’s design (trying to mitigate the mental workload, the human error adapting the difficulty of the task to humans or task allocation between humans and machines).

In order to support this interface design, effective evaluation tools are needed in order to comply with standards and to mitigate operator’s performance problems due to perceived complexity issues. The major contribution of this paper is along these lines: to highlight the benefits of including IT to apply design guidelines by means of questionnaires. This enables to improve the interface at design phase by means of iterative evaluation.

Within the working context presented in this paper, it is of utmost importance to enable different collaboration schemes between Universities and Enterprises; as this allows experts to eventually hold face-to-face meetings and interviews or to work within a shared platform.

This paper presents the use of IT tools for evaluation purposes in order to allow different forms of collaboration and to reduce the effects of physical distance. In section two, we describe a set of evaluation questionnaire tools embedded in an IT based platform. These tools aim at contributing to remote collaboration between universities and industries in the field of industrial automation. Then, we assess the system in two case studies. In section three we present a first case study carried out in academic environments. The evaluation questionnaire tools are used by engineering students to design human supervisory control interfaces in a manufacturing system at the Escuela Superior del Ejército, ESPE University in Quito city (Ecuador) and teachers collaborate by using the educational platform, therefore showing its potential use for advanced educational purposes (always within the industrial automation field). A second case study example is presented in section four in industrial contexts. In this case, wastewater control room operators use a questionnaire of sources of complexity in order to help designers understand the perceived complexity and be able to develop effective supervisory control interfaces in wastewater treatment plants.


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