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This summary report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information

Human Centered Systems Laboratory Assessment Summary Report

DATE: April 28 - May 1, 2003
CHAIRMAN: Thomas B. Sheridan,
Professor Emeritus, MIT


David Huft
Director, Office of Research
South Dakota DOT
Ian Noy, Ph.D., P.Eng., CPE
Chief Ergonomics Division
Transport Canada and President, Systems Ergonomics
Louis Tijerina, Ph.D
Senior Technical Specialist
Ford Motor Company
Richard F. Pain, Ph.D
Transport Safety Coordinator
Transportation Research Board

Barbara T. Harder
B. T. Harder, Inc.

Overview of the Human Centered Systems Laboratory

Tom Granda, Manager, HCS Laboratory 202-493-3365 tom.granda@fhwa.dot.gov

The purpose of the Human Centered Systems laboratory is the aide in the design of a safe and efficient roadway infrastructure through the analysis of driver and pedestrian behavior and performance. Using a wide range of testing facilities, the laboratory conducts staff research into a broad spectrum of geometric, traffic control, and operations issues, as well as the effects of these elements on drivers and pedestrians. The range of facilities allows researchers to choose the technically appropriate and most cost-effective tools to answer a study question. As participants from the local area exhibit behavior in a variety of challenging roadway conditions, they are observed and documented to gather baseline data, analyze complex roadway issues, and test hypotheses in safe, controlled settings. The HCS Team works closely with transportation engineers to define and implement a research approach for specific issues in the areas of Intersections, Visibility, Pedestrians and Bicycles, Speed Management, and Operations. The team is comprised of both Federal and contract staff with backgrounds in research psychology, transportation engineering, technical/test expertise and programmers.

Key Strengths and Observations

  • The Assessment Panel was impressed with the openness to the assessment exhibited by the HCS Team and believes that the review process is commendable and should be maintained.
  • The dedication and enthusiasm of the HCS Team was evident throughout the discussions, bolstered to a large extent by the dramatic staff turnover and rather significant cultural change that accompanied the reorganization a few years ago. The HCS Team appears committed to working in the new mode of direct support to mainline research programs, being in competition with other labs in some instances. Moreover, there appears to be a healthy atmosphere of collaboration and teamwork between FHWA and contractor staff.
  • On-site contractors stated they feel they are doing more meaningful research in comparison to several years ago when mission strategic and/or tactical objectives were at times uncertain. The customers interviewed were satisfied with the quality and standard of work and cited increased awareness and growing appreciation for human factors research.
  • Some notable strength includes peer reviews and involvement of external subject-matter experts in projects (e.g., Zwahlen), which helps ensure a certain level of quality in the work and enhances staff development. It is the opinion of the Assessment Panel that the practice of performing research in-house, as opposed to contracted out; helps develop the expertise of a generally young and non-highway-trained staff. Since finding fully trained and content-knowledgeable staff is generally difficult, this is strategically very positive. Furthermore, we believe that the team approach, trying to break through the stovepipe culture, will enhance research project and program effectiveness.

Key Recommendations and Status of Current Activities

  1. Panel Recommendation: Support contractors do not have easy access to basic library services for performing research.
    Action to be taken: A) Re-establish and upgrade Interlibrary Loan services at TFHRC. B) Establish HRDS Human Factors Library.
    Status as of 12/05/05: A) Inter-library loans have been made available to all researchers including non-federal staff. The Human factors reference material is integrated into the full reference center collection. B) Human Centered Systems’ reference material has been integrated into the TFHRC library. Completed

  2. Panel Recommendation: The laboratory facilities are aging and in need have updated equipment.
    Action to be taken: A) Upgrade the computers and system hardware of the simulator. B) Aging equipment will be replaced based on the requirements analysis for the research.
    Status as of 12/05/05: A) The first stage of an HCS lab up-grade was completed in 2/05. Dual capabilities were established, (simultaneous development and rendering). The second stage of the up-grade is planned for FY06. B) Purchased a new Saturn car, new PC’s and new cameras and projectors. Completed

  3. Panel Recommendation: There is currently no discretionary funding. More capital and a faster purchase process are needed to maintain laboratories and keep the research process going.
    Action to be taken: A) Identify human factors research safety issues and topics as part of R&T roadmaps and spending plans. B) Identify funding for immediate upgrade of research facilities. C) Identify long-term funding mechanism after reauthorization, and several other lab reviews.
    Status as of 12/05/05: A) Involved in all areas of team roadmaps HCS roadmap team involved in all areas of roadmaps. B) Identified and allocated, upgrade in progress. Funding from the Office of Safety and Joint Program Office has been identified. C) Specific mechanisms via reauthorization have been identified. Accumulate funding expenditures by users. Completed

  4. Panel Recommendation: Highly specialized staff leaves open vulnerabilities to turnover and significant loss of technical expertise.
    Action to be taken: A) Encourage participation in external research activities. Involve staff in TFHRC and FHWA wide activities. B) Encourage participation in human factors professional organizations. C) Require frequent discussions between engineers and human factors professionals. D) Develop a work Force succession plan.
    Status as of 12/05/05: A) Cooperative Intersection Cullion Awidegs system, HFCC and Weather, Participation with SC and DC DOTS, Murlin United Traffic Central Devices Committee participation. B) Research papers accepted by HFES, Transportation Research Board, Institute of Transportation Engineers. Human Factors, Engonomics Society, Institute of Transportation Engineers, Transportation Research Board, Invitations to tri-state conference and GHSA. C) Frequent Meetings, Budget Preparation and Work Plan Development with Engineers. D) Back-ups identified, Re-Distribution of work (IDIQ, Univ. of Florida and Professional development (COTR presentations and papers). Completed

  5. Panel Recommendation: Human Factors personnel sometimes have limited opportunities to participate in the earliest phases of project development. Staff should be more involved with planning activities.
    Action to be taken: A) Participate on agency and office team meetings and committees. B) Provide the opportunity to propose human factor research as part of R&T roadmap planning and other processes.
    Status as of 12/05/05: A) Internal (Safety and Operations), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Joint Program Office, Transportation Research Board, Pedestrian Bike Committee and Speed Management Committee. B) Participated in team meetings to develop Human Factor plans for research/Roadmap process in place with a top down approach.

  6. Panel Recommendation: FHWA should identify the end users as well as the customers internal to FHWA. Specifically, the panel endorses FHWA’s plan to use and deploy Technology Facilitation Action Plan (TFAPs).
    Action to be taken: Participate in the development of TFAPs, identifying the customer users and stakeholders.
    Status as of 12/05/05: Integrated with other team roadmaps; complete. Updated periodically. Coordination of Technology Facilitation Action Plan workshop with VA DOT and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Completed

  7. Panel Recommendation: The origin of research requirements is not clear. A vision of HCS is needed.
    Action to be taken: A) Develop a vision for HCS. B) Conduct International HF Scan Tour. C) Identify and suggest long-term cross cutting research.
    Status as of 12/05/05: Justification paper needed for A) “The vision of the HCS Team is to develop a world class Human Factors Roadway Transportation Laboratory”. B) Completed 6/04. C) Roadmaps have identified long-term and cross cutting research needs with the offices of operations and safety. Completed

All Key Recommendations and Activities were completed December 12, 2005.

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