Assessing the cost of interruptions for the military

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On January 27, 2012

Interruptions are a way of life, and unless we’re trying to read email on our smart phones while driving, they’re typically not life-threatening.


Susan Murray, professor of engineering management and systems engineering (seen here handling three tasks at once), hopes to help military personnel better manage interruptions.

But for military personnel monitoring unmanned aerial drones, interruptions could have deadly consequences. That’s why the U.S. military has asked researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology to study the impact of interruptions on such “human-in-the-loop systems.”

Researchers Susan Murray, professor of engineering management and systems engineering, and Muhammet Gulum, a Ph.D. student in engineering management, have set up a work station in Missouri S&T’s Engineering Management Building to study how people react to interruptions.

The subjects in Murray’s study perform monitoring tasks on a computer but are also interrupted periodically to perform other tasks – each designed to engage subjects’ motor skills, cognitive ability or visual ability. This kind of multitasking is common in military manning stations, where personnel monitor drone flights thousands of miles away.

“We’re looking at different types of interruptions to see how people respond,” Murray says. “We’re looking at the impact on time and accuracy. The type of interruption can make a difference.”

The results of this research – funded through a $315,000 grant from Army’s Leonard Wood Institute – will be used by the military when designing new monitoring systems.

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