Compared with the current state of human machine interface science and technology, VTS systems lag years behind. This results in a significant limitation of VTS operators’ efficiency and operational comfort, preventing VTS from fully performing its role in improving the safety of navigation in port waters. Luckily, there are solutions.
The last two decades have seen unprecedented technological progress in electronics, computers and software. With that progress an important trend, that marks the Twenty-First Century, becomes evident. As technology becomes ubiquitous it stops being perceived as something strange and different. Increasingly it becomes mainstream, blends with the environment, as an indispensable part of our lives.
This is partially due to the technical capabilities of smaller and more powerful chips and displays, but also – in a large part – due to advances in human machine interfaces. It was realised that technology should no longer be a closed domain of clunky user interfaces for experts and highly trained operators. Instead the human spirit should be brought to the world of machines, which ought to become more ergonomic, intuitive and usable. Mobile phones and tablet computers are typical examples of such a human-centric approach.
Upgrading to three dimensional charts
According to the new paradigm, it is not people who should have to learn how to operate complex technology, often using badly designed interfaces, and then have to constantly keep bending themselves to its peculiarities and limitations – it is the computer systems that should be optimized to better cater to our needs, enhance our natural capabilities and compensate for our limitations. This approach dramatically enhances efficiency and improves operational comfort of the technology users.
In the marine world, as a result of that thinking, the idea of the three dimensional chart emerged. At first it was not completely clear whether, and how exactly, it would be better than its two dimensional counterparts. However, it seemed sensible to assume that removing the extra workload and concentration required to interpret two dimensional charts, and instead use the natural three dimensional cognitive capabilities of the human brain, shouldhave some merits.
Indeed, formal research proved the benefits of three dimensional charts over two dimensional representations. In experiments, conducted for example by Dr Thomas Porathe at the Malardalen University in Sweden, it has been shown that the use of three dimensional charts leads to a significant reduction in human error and a similar increase in the navigator’s efficiency. In the experiment, a large group of participants, with different levels of nautical expertise, were asked to complete a simulated navigational exercise using two dimensional and three dimensional charts. Not only was the average time required to complete the exercise about 50 percent shorter using three dimensional charts, but the participants made on average 80 percent fewer errors and selected the three dimensional chart as by far the most ergonomic. What is more important, the results were similar in all experience groups, from novice to expert.
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