Human-Machine Interaction

What we offer.

Humatects designs and implements software for Adaptive Human-Machine Interaction (HMI) in control rooms and vehicle cockpits. This includes graphical interfaces, touch interfaces and augmented and virtual reality interfaces. Our HMI solutions present information to ease monitoring and control of vehicles, energy networks and complex processes.

The challenge we tackle.

Operators of control rooms have to detect anomalies or emergency situations as quickly as possible. Correct recovery procedures have to be found and performed to remedy the problem. Failure identification and repair have to be done in a most efficient and effective way. Drivers of automated vehicles have to understand what the automation is doing and what it expects from her/him. Drivers will buy these new cars and will develop trust in automated driving only if the automated behaviour is transparent and easy to understand.

Our solution: We produce human-machine interaction (HMI) that is perfectly adapted to the tasks and needs of the user; that is easy to understand, easy to use and to which users feel personally attached. Our HMI produces a transparent view on the controlled processes and on automated functions. Automated systems equipped with such an interface are trusted by the users because they are understood, don't produce surprises and are perceived as transparent “team mates”.

What makes us unique.

We use a model-based engineering method to clearly specify what information needs to be communicated to the user (control room operator or human driver). While other companies often use ad-hoc creativity to come up with HMI solutions we complement our creativity with scientifically grounded engineering methods. Our techniques are grounded in more than a decade of research performed by the Humatects team at the computer science institute OFFIS. In addition, we use empirical techniques like observing and interviewing the users. This combined model-based and empirical approach is what makes Humatects' HMI development unique.

Our services and products.

We offer services to systematically produce HMI designs and to implement these designs into software. Usually, these HMIs are intended to allow users to monitor and control a system (e.g. the Columbus model of the ISS, an energy network, a car) in the most efficient and effective way. Our services are performed in 7 steps. It is possible to book just a subset of these.

1. Task Analysis: We identify and describe the tasks users have to perform with the HMI, e.g. monitoring various elements of the systems, control various parameters of the system. This is done in a combination of analysing handbooks or similar documentation and empirical studies with users. While talking to the users we also identify theirs needs for improvement. The result is a Task Model associated with User Needs.

2. Work Domain Analysis: We identify and describe the system under control on different abstraction levels. These levels represent different views on the same system and are intended to inspect and understand the system from different perspectives in order to e.g. detect and recover from anomalies. The result is an Abstraction Hierarchy Model.

3. Information Analysis: We use the Task Model and the Abstraction Hierarchy Model to systematically identify all information elements that are needed to perform the tasks on the one hand and to generate different views on the system on the other hand.

4. HMI Requirements Definition: We derive requirements for the HMI from the models and user needs. In this step we benefit from a deep knowledge of ergonomics, task and work domain demands and cognitive processes.

5. HMI Design: We systematically derive an HMI Design based on the insights acquired in the Task Analysis, the Work Domain Analysis, the Information Analysis and the HMI Requirements Definition. In this step, we make use of our expertise in human perceptual and cognitive skills to derive a design in a sound engineering process that is optimally tailored to the operator needs and enhance task performance.

6. HMI Implementation: We implement HMI for use on different devices. This ranges from classical desktop applications, over web applications to innovative solutions on augmented and virtual reality glasses.

7. HMI Evaluation: We evaluate HMI solutions to determine the performance of a design and its suitability for the operator needs. In this step, we apply a wide range of human factors methods. These start with gaining feedback from professional users in a structured interview, over cognitive walkthrough and user experiments in simulated working conditions up to professional application of tools for efficiency evaluation. These tools are exclusively used by Humatects with some having a patent pending.

Our techniques.

Empirical Studies: We interview, observe and perform experiments with users. This includes structured interviews, cognitive walkthrough, focus groups, ethnographic studies, simulator experiments. In these studies we gather input for our task analysis, requirement definition and design. User can help to describe the tasks and, additionally, due to their experience in working with the system they often have very valuable ideas how to improve an exiting HMI. To consider this expertise is an important key to a succesfull, accepted and trusted HMI.

Model-based HMI engineering: We apply a model-based engineering process to methodically derive a design. With this process we are able to systematically apply our knowledge about operators tasks, the system under control and the perceptual and cognitive skills of the human operator to ensure that the HMI solution is well fitted to the operators tasks and needs. Furthermore the model-based process ensures that each design decision can be reasoned and offers a sound traceability to the requirements definition in case a reengineering process of the system is required.

Ecological Interface Design: We apply Ecological Interface Design (EID) to design HMI for monitoring tasks of complex safety-critical systems. With EID the complexity of the monitoring task can be reduced for the operator as the HMI is structured into different abstraction hierarchies starting with a high level of abstraction where all information is aggregated in an efficient visual form to allow the fast perception of anomalies. If a problem occurs the operator can go to a lower abstraction level and “zoom” into the system at the point the anomaly occurred to be optimally supported in his/her problem solving process.

What does adaptation mean here?

Adaptation here means that the display changes dynamically in accordance with the tasks the user has to perform and with the cognitive demands associated with it.