What to automate? Objects vs Tasks

Examples of operators who must track objects include air traffic controllers, maritime navigators,  and controllers of multiple unmanned vehicles.  These types of tasks lend themselves to object-oriented automation.  This is explained by contrasting this to task-oriented automation.

A common scenario for such operators would be sitting in front of the radar display with multiple contacts.  Their tasks may include classifying the objects (whether they are a threat, friendly or neutral), and assessing their threat level or collision potential.

Say an operator on a ship was monitoring the vessels around him/her.  The radar display has own-ship in the middle, and there are multiple ships around.  It is a stressful time and the operator is getting over-worked trying to classify, assess the threat of collision, and report.  The automation is not 100% reliable, but helpful all the same.  An example of each type of automation is given:

Classify these contacts

 Task-oriented automation

This means automating according to chosen tasks.  For example, when automation is activated, all vessels have their classifications displayed automatically.  The type of tasks automated may be determined using a framework or model.  One such model is proposed by Parasuraman, Sheridan and Wickens (2000), which suggests automating according to the human information processing level required: information acquisition, information analysis, decision making or action implementation.  Performance has been found to be differentially influenced by the level at which automation is aimed.


Object-oriented automation

This means automating according the specific characteristics of the objects.  For example, when automation is activated, all the objects closest to own ship still require operator monitoring and assessment, but all other objects have their classification displayed.  This may be more appropriate if the operator prefers high risk decisions made manually, that is, only the closest vessels are tracked manually.  An overview of this approach is given by Arciszewski, de Greef and van Delft (2009) and is applied in a real environment by de Greef, Arciszewski and Neerincx (2010).


It is clear that these two automation orientations are not mutually exclusive, as the automation designer must still choose the type of task to be automated with object-oriented automation.  However the distinction allows explicit consideration during the automation design.



Arciszewski, H. F. R., de Greef, T., & van Delft, J. H. (2009). Adaptive Automation in a Naval Combat Management System. Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part A: Systems and Humans, IEEE Transactions on, 39(6), 1188-1199.

de Greef, T., Arciszewski, H., & Neerincx, M. A. (2010). Adaptive Automation Based on an Object-Oriented Task Model: Implementation and Evaluation in a Realistic C2 Environment. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, 4(2), 152-182.

Parasuraman, R., Sheridan, T. B., & Wickens, C. D. (2000). A model for types and levels of human interaction with automation. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics – Part A: Systems and Humans, 30(3), 286-297.

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