Embry-Riddle Prof. Barbara Chaparro on the Human Factors Aspects of AR

Founded as a flight training school in 1926, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) has grown to become the largest fully accredited university system specializing in aviation and aerospace. ERAU recently joined the AREA and one of its representatives is Barbara Chaparro, PhD, a professor in ERAU’s Department of Human Factors. We spoke to Dr. Chaparro about the human factor aspects of Augmented Reality and ERAU’s participation in the AREA.

AREA: Tell us how you became interested in joining the AREA.

Dr. Chaparro: I first heard about the AREA from Brian Laughlin at Boeing. Brian was my human factors doctoral student when I was at Wichita State and we’ve kept in touch over the years. I’ve seen the kinds of things he’s been working on at Boeing and how it overlapped with my research interest in human/computer interaction and usability and user experience. I saw an opportunity to pursue them further through the AREA group.

AREA: Could you tell us more about your background as it relates to AR?

Dr. Chaparro: My background is in the area of usability and user experience. I have worked with a number of different companies and technologies focusing on implementing design principles to make it as easy as possible for people to use devices and tools.

I became interested in AR when Google Glass was introduced. I could see the potential in industries such as aviation, medical, and consumer products. My initial interest with Glass was to use it as a training tool for my students. I also worked with a colleague at Wichita State to study user interactions with Glass versus a cell phone.

And then HoloLens came out, and for a year and a half now, we have been exploring the user experience side of HoloLens. We want to get an idea of how the average person experiences this technology. For instance: What are some of the issues from a UX standpoint? The gesturing, window manipulation, texting, voice input – all of these methods of interaction bring usability and user experience issues to the human-technology interaction. A lot of the literature is focused on the usability of a particular app, but there is very little out there on the integration of multiple technologies, working across a multitude of tasks at the same time, or task-switching between the physical and augmented environment. That is my interest, and then seeing the application of this to a variety of domains. I consult, for example, with healthcare professionals who believe that AR has great potential. Whatever the domain, there is going to be this core issue of usability that will determine whether it takes off or not. Eventually, it comes down to the comfort and the seamlessness of the user experience in the tasks that they are doing.

AREA: How do you expect to benefit from your membership in the AREA?

Dr. Chaparro: I see the AREA as a fantastic mix of academic researchers and industries that are applying the technology. Human factors is an applied field, so we’re always looking for practical applications of the things we’re studying in the lab. So I see that as a huge benefit of the AREA. Then we’ll benefit from the work of the various committees. We’ve been participating in the Safety and the Research Committees, and hopefully, the Human Factors Committee in the future. We need to understand what the issues are, because any problem that an industry is having is a potential research project for one of my students. And that’s the other benefit: to recognize the needs of industries that will need to hire students that have knowledge of this technology. We want to understand what those needs are so we can build them into our curriculum if they are not already there.

AREA: Based on what you have learned so far, what do you see as the major outstanding issue that needs to be addressed to make AR more usable to the average person?

Chaparro: With these new glasses and head-mounted devices, certainly comfort is an issue, especially in industries where they will need to wear them for an extended period of time. That’s going to be huge. And not from just a comfort standpoint but also visually – going back and forth between the physical and augmented world and what that experience is like.

AREA: In addition to the research projects you mentioned, what other areas of AR are being explored at Embry-Riddle?

Chaparro: My colleague Dr. Joseph Keebler has been conducting research related to marker-based AR in medical training. His area of expertise is medical human factors, teams, and training, so he is excited about the technology from both a training standpoint and as a real-time use tool for high performing teams. The issue is that, while it appears that this technology is great and effective, we really need more research to demonstrate how and when it is working, and how to best integrate it into modern day systems.

One challenge is that there’s a novelty effect problem. For instance, there are research projects being done that show AR is better for performing a task, but it is really hard to tease away the novelty side of that. In other words – are people improving due to increased learning from the AR system? Or is it simply the fact that it’s this fascinating and visually impressive technology that is garnering people’s interest and keeping them engaged? Joe and I are interested in how to structure a study so that we are looking at the true effectiveness of the technology above and beyond the effects of its potential novelty. Joe has published a few papers on AR, including a chapter in the Cambridge Handbook of Workplace Training and Employee Development (Keebler, Patzer, Wiltshire, & Fiore, 2017)[1].

Another one of our colleagues, Dr. Alex Chaparro, has been working on the use of AR in transportation. For example, AR has many applications in aviation, maintenance documentation, and driving environments. His main interest is in the uses of AR and VR in these environments to train individuals to perform complex tasks.

We also have a VR gaming lab. Joe and I have also done some psychometric work on the validation of a new satisfaction instrument for video games that we’re now trying to apply to the AR world (Phan, Keebler, & Chaparro, 2016)[2]. We definitely see the benefits of this technology and would like to see it succeed.

[1] Keebler, J. R., Patzer, B. S., Wiltshire, T. J., & Fiore, S. M. (2017). 12 Augmented Reality Systems in Training. The Cambridge Handbook of Workplace Training and Employee Development, 278.

[2] Phan, M. H., Keebler, J. R., & Chaparro, B. S. (2016). The development and validation of the game user experience satisfaction scale (GUESS). Human Factors, 58(8), 1217-1247.

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