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Hansman, John, and Missy Cummings, 16.422 Human Supervisory Control of Automated Systems, Spring 2004. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 07 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Human Supervisory Control of Automated Systems

Spring 2004

A harrier aircraft above a carrier flight deck.
A Harrier jump-jet hovers above an aircraft carrier deck. Its pilot relies on automated stability systems in order to control the aircraft. (Image is taken from U.S. Navy's Web site.)

Course Highlights

This site features each instructor's lecture notes.  The projects section includes students' case studies and final presentations.

Course Description

Human Supervisory Control of Automated Systems discusses elements of the interactions between humans and machines.  These elements include: assignment of roles and authority; tradeoffs between human control and human monitoring; and human intervention in automatic processes.  Further topics comprise: performance, optimization and social implications of the system; enhanced human interfaces; decision aiding; and automated alterting systems.  Topics refer to applications in aerospace, industrial and transportation systems.



Two sessions / week
1.5 hours / session


Prof. M. Cummings
Prof. R. J. Hansman

Required Text

 Wickens, C. D., and J. G. Hollands. Engineering Psychology and Human Performance. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc., 2000. ISBN: 0321047117.

Course Objectives

This is a graduate student class designed to examine the fundamental issues of human supervisory control, wherein humans interact with complex dynamic systems, mediated through various levels of automation. This course will explore how humans interact with automated systems of varying complexities, what decision processes can be encountered in complex man-machine systems, and how automated systems can be designed to support both human strengths and weaknesses. Several case studies will be presented from a variety of domains as illustrations. A secondary objective of this class is to provide an opportunity to improve both oral and written presentation skills.

Group Presentation Assignment

After selecting a partner, students should select a topic from the list below and prepare a 10-15 minute presentation on the history of the incident for an in-class presentation. Special attention should be given to the issues surrounding the problems with automated systems and recommendations.

Aviation-Related Automation Accidents

  • DC-10 landing in CWS mode, December 21, 1992, Faro Airport, Portugal
  • China Airlines Boeing 747, February 19, 1985, 300 NM NW of San Francisco
  • DC-10 overrun, February 8, 1984, JFK, New York
  • B-747 uncommanded roll, February 19, 1996, Toronto, Ontario
  • A320 accident, June 26, 1988, Mulhouse-Habsheim France
  • A320 approach accident, January 20, 1992, Strasbourg, France
  • A300 approach accident, April 26, 1994, Nagoya, Japan
  • A330 takeoff accident, June 30, 1994, Toulouse, France
  • A320 approach accident, February 14, 1990, Bangalore, India
  • A-320 landing overrun, September 14, 1993, Warsaw Airport, Poland
  • USAIR Flight 1016 go-around, July 2, 1994, Charlotte, NC
  • American Airlines Flight 965, December 20, 1995, Cali, Colombia
  • X-15 Adaptive control, November 15, 1967, Delamar Dry Lake, NV

Other Accidents with Automation Issues

  • Washington Metro train collision, January 6, 1996, Shady Grove, MD
  • Therac-25, June 1985 through January 1987
  • USS Vincennes, July 3, 1988, Persian Gulf
  • London Ambulance Service computer aided dispatch problem, October 1992
  • Pipeline release of hazardous liquid, May 23, 1996, Gramercy LA
  • Grounding of the ship Royal Majesty, June 10, 1995, Nantucket, Massachusetts

Grade Basis

Group Presentation 10%
Mid-term Presentation 10%
Literature Review 10%
Final Written 30%
Final Oral 20%
Participation 20%
Total 100%

Academic Honesty Policy

It is expected that within this course, the highest standards of academic integrity will be maintained, in keeping with MIT's stated policy: "Fundamental to the principle of independent learning and professional growth is the requirement of honesty and integrity in conduct of one's academic and nonacademic life…. Cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and other forms of academic dishonesty are considered serious offenses for which disciplinary penalties can be imposed." Specifically in this class, collaboration is allowed for the group project but the term projects and related efforts are individual efforts. All referenced work should be appropriately cited (APA format), to include websites, as well as figures and graphs in presentations. If there are any questions whatsoever, feel free to contact the course instructors about any possible gray areas.


The table below lists the lecture topics for each class session. Students delivered oral presentations three times during the semester. Presentations were given during scheduled lecture sessions.

1 Human Supervisory Control of Automated Systems Prof. R. J. Hansman
2 Human-Centered Systems Engineering Design Apporaches Prof. M. Cummings

Prof. R. J. Hansman
3 Task Analysis and Function Allocation Prof. M. Cummings
4 Guest Lecture
Historical and Social Implications
Prof. D. Mindell
5 Memory and Attention Prof. M. Cummings
6 Activity
Group Presentations
Student Presenters
7 Activity
Group Presentations (cont.)
Student Presenters
8 Classical Decision Theory and Bayes' Theorem Prof. M. Cummings
9 Signal Detection Theory, and Information Theory Prof. R. J. Hansman
10 Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases Prof. M. Cummings
11 Naturalistic Decision Making Prof. M. Cummings
12 Workload and Situation Awareness Prof. R. J. Hansman
13 Aircraft Displays and Flight Management Systems Prof. R. J. Hansman
14 Activity
Mid-Term Presentations
Student Presenters
15 Guest Lecture
Human Error and Reliability
Prof. N. Leveson
16 Research Methods and Experimental Design Prof. M. Cummings
17 Alerting Systems Prof. R. J. Hansman
18 Command and Control/Air Traffic Control Prof. R. J. Hansman
19 Guest Lecture
Model-based Programming of Cooperating Explorers
Prof. B. Williams
20 The Coming Transition in Automobile Cockpits - Insights from Aerospace Prof. R. J. Hansman
21 Guest Lecture
Prof. T. Sheridan
22 Guest Lecture
Medical Interface Design
Prof. M. Wiklund
23 Nuclear and Process Control Plants Prof. M. Cummings
24 Social Implications Prof. M. Cummings
25 Activity
Term Project Presentations
Student Presenters
26 Activity
Term Project Presentations (cont.)
Student Presenters   Tell A Friend