An estimated 602,000 new pilots, 610,000 maintenance technicians, and 899,000 cabin crew will be needed worldwide for commercial air travel over the next 20 years (Boeing, 2022). That’s about 30,000 pilots, 30,000 maintenance technicians, and 45,000 cabin crew trained annually. Additionally, urban air mobility is creating a new aviation industry that will require a different type of pilot and technician. It's clear there is a demand across the entire aviation industry to turn out new personnel at an increased rate. The demand should not just be met by numbers, but also by knowledge and experience. But how can you train faster, cheaper, and yet still maintain (and exceed) current high standards? Is the answer extended reality (XR) technology? (Hint: that's part of the solution). These are the problems being tackled by the aviation community and discussed at the World Aviation Training Summit (WATS).
This year was the 25th anniversary of WATS. I've been attending and presenting at WATS for the past three years. In that time, I've seen the push for XR technology met with valid concerns for safety. If you know me, then you've heard me harp on the need for evidence-supported technology for training, so I can appreciate that stance. Technology developers have an ethical responsibility to conduct or commission the appropriate research before boasting claims of training effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction. There are many companies that came to the table with case studies showing the training value of their solution. Other companies want to do the same but may need more opportunities or research support. On the other side, some commercial airlines have been conducting XR studies internally, but the results tend to stay within the organization. The regulating authorities (e.g., FAA, ICAO, etc.) need the most convincing. They need to see the evidence and clearly understand where XR will be implemented during training. There may be an assumption that XR is the training solution but XR is just part of a well-designed, technology-enabled training strategy. It was great to hear many presenters convey this same message and reiterate the need for utilizing a suite of media suitable for developing or enhancing the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities.
We need collaboration between researchers, tech companies, and airlines, sharing research results to show the value of XR at all levels within the aviation industry. Otherwise, the work will continue to be done in silos, efforts will be duplicated, progress will be stunted, and personnel demands will fail to be met. We all need to contribute to the scientific body of knowledge if we want to move the industry in the direction needed to adapt and prosper.
Boeing. (2022, July 25). Boeing forecasts demand for 2.1 million new commercial aviation personnel and enhanced training. https://services.boeing.com/news/2022-boeing-pilot-technician-outlook
Extended reality (XR) technologies have been utilized as effective training tools across many contexts, including military aviation, although commercial aviation has been slower to adopt these technologies. While there is hype behind every new technology, XR technologies have evolved past the emerging classification stage and are at a state of maturity where their impact on training is supported by empirical evidence. Diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers, 1962) presents key factors that, when met, increase the likelihood of adoption. These factors consider the relative advantage, trialability, observability, compatibility, and complexity of the XR technology. Further, there are strategic approaches that should be implemented to address each of these innovation diffusion factors.
This presentation will discuss each diffusion factor, provide exemplar use cases, and outline evidence-backed considerations to improve the probability of XR adoption for training. Considerations will discuss various effects that may occur with the introduction XR technology, such as the novelty effect where improved performance initially improves due to new technology and not because of learning. Key questions will be presented that should be addressed under each diffusion factor that will help guide the information needed to support the argument for XR adoption. Importantly, the quality of research evidence to support XR implementation and adoption is critical to reducing the risk of ineffective training. Therefore, a discussion of research-related considerations will also be presented to ensure an appropriate interpretation of existing XR research literature. The goal is to provide the audience with an objective lens to help them determine whether XR technologies should be adopted for their training needs.
World Aviation Training Summit
April 18-20, 2023, Orlando, FL
April 20, 11:15 AM, Improving the Probability of XR Adoption for Training
Last week, Congress blocked a $400 million award to Microsoft for the purchase of nearly 7000 Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) systems for the Army. The award would have followed the Army’s investment of $125 million to develop the Hololens-based augmented reality headset. The issue? IVAS proved to be spectacularly problematic in user testing last year, with 80% of Soldiers reporting physical discomfort, eye strain, nausea, and other issues within the first three hours of use. Instead, they awarded a $40 million contract to develop yet another version of IVAS…to Microsoft, the same company that delivered the current system.
On the one hand, as one who conducts these kinds of end user research, it’s gratifying to see the Army doing extensive user experience testing before deploying something this invasive and frankly, potentially dangerous. Using a Hololens, or any other augmented reality headset, in a controlled environment is one thing. Having your field of view occluded by constantly changing data streams while you’re being shot at is potentially a human factors nightmare. At the very least, if Soldiers don’t like it, they won’t use it. And it turns out, they don’t. In addition, the methodology of this testing has been criticized by the Inspector General.
User research is critically important when you’re developing a capability your users will interact with on a daily basis. The process should start before the prototype stage, though. The impetus for IVAS did not come from the boots on the ground; it’s the result of nearly 20 years of research and development into head-worn augmented reality. It’s not clear whether Soldiers were ever asked “What are your problems?” before they were asked “Do you like this thing we’ve made to solve them?”
We see this problem a lot working in the training technology space. We’re regularly asked to develop solutions without talking to the intended users until a prototype is developed. I get it. Their time is valuable. They’re hard to get a hold of. There’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. We don’t need to talk to them, we’re the experts. Yes, we’re the experts in how to apply the science behind why things work, and we’re the experts in designing the solution. We’re also the experts in evaluating the solution. But we can’t be the experts in how people do their jobs, the problems they have, the barriers to solving them, and their work environment without listening to them. Because it’s never as straightforward as it seems.
Where does IVAS go from here? Some would argue there are too many technical barriers to overcome right now. Others would argue that the contract should be recompeted instead of continuing to throw money at a sunk cost. I would argue the Army should take a step back and ask if this solution broadly is the right one to solve the Infantry’s problems today.
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