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Effects of Communication Modality on Pilot-Controller Coordination during a Simulated m:N Operation  (2023)
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The last decade or so has seen growing interest in new control paradigms and concepts of operation for uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) in which multiple aircraft are piloted remotely by a single or relatively small number of people. Referred to as "one-to-many" and "many-to-many" (alternatively, "multi-operator, multi-vehicle")—and frequently expressed as the corresponding ratios, 1:N and m:N—such novel configurations of aircraft and the people who manage them are seen as critical to the path to future operations involving UAS. Examples of industry domains interested in these control paradigms are small package delivery services utilizing small UAS and passenger-carrying, short-range "Urban Air Mobility" (UAM) operations. Stakeholders in such operations have identified communication and coordination of flight activity with air traffic controllers (ATC) as a barrier to operations. In contrast to present-day flight operations, in which a pilot communicates with one ATC on one radio frequency for one aircraft, multi-vehicle operations potentially entail a significant increase in pilot task load for management of comms. New concepts, such as UAS Service Suppliers (USSs) and Providers of Services to UAM (PSUs), have been proposed to address the known bottleneck for Air Traffic Management (ATM) presented by multi-vehicle operations. While progress has been steadily made over years developing USSs and PSUs, it is generally expected that initial UAM operations will rely on traditional voice-over-radio communication with ATC for purposes of ATM. The current study was a human-in-the-loop simulation that had participants, each possessing a Private Pilot License, act as the ground-based pilot-in command for multiple vehicles in a hypothetical UAM service in the San Francisco Bay Area. The experiment utilized a 2-by-3, within-subjects design in which the pilot’s Vehicle Load (4 vs. 12) and Comm System (Voice, Datalink, and a Hybrid) were manipulated. The task given to pilots was to use the Comm System to coordinate flight activity for all aircraft with appropriate controllers, having to obtain departure and arrival clearances at "vertiport" facilities and transition clearances for any intermediate airspaces along the route. Pilots were additionally responsible for compliance with vectoring instructions issued by ATC. Subjective workload questionnaires (NASA-TLX) were administered following each experimental trial. Screen recordings of the pilot’s Ground Control Station (GCS) and audio recordings of trials were subsequently coded to obtain performance metrics: response times and error rates. Presented in this paper are results related to pilot responses to vectoring instructions issued by ATC. Workload was found to be significantly higher in the 12-Vehicle condition compared to the 4-Vehicle condition, nearly maxing out the NASA-TLX overall workload scale. There was no significant difference made by the Comm System on workload ratings. Pilots' response times to communications were fastest in the Voice condition, although overall "service time" for compliance was shorter in Datalink and Hybrid conditions in most cases. Errors by pilots were frequent in both Vehicle Load conditions, most perniciously when using the Voice system. The results of this study suggest tradeoffs in advantages and disadvantages of the three comm systems. Recommendations for communication system design are provided taking the tradeoffs into account.
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Communication, Coordination, Effects, m:N, Modality, Operation, Pilot-Controller
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2023 AIAA AVIATION Forum and Exposition, San Diego, CA
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Adobe PDF Icon  AIAA_2023_UAM_Comms_Final_web.pdf (Download Acrobat Reader Click to download Adobe Acrabat Reader)
  (1641KB) (application/pdf)
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Curator: Phil So
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Last Updated: August 15, 2019