can often lead to more efficient laboratory studies and, more importantly, can assist in allowing the results obtained from small empirical studies to be compared to other studies to gain general validity and applicability.
Since the origins during World War II of organized research that was meant to understand and model human-hardware system interactions and consequences, the military has been the largest benefactor and supporter of such work. One might surmise that after 65 years of such work, there is not much that has not been addressed in this area. Yet the operational complexity of current military systems, not to mention future systems, demands that one know much more about the mental and physical attributes of the soldiers who are expected to operate and maintain these systems under the most arduous conditions imaginable. George Fisher, former chair of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), noted in his 2000 address to the NAE, that we are in the Dark Ages when it comes to designing systems that are convenient for people to operate. Indeed, it is estimated by some that fewer than 10 percent of currently graduating engineers receiving a bachelor’s degree have had even one ergonomics course, and fewer than about 2 percent of engineers receiving a Ph.D. degree have had such exposure. Given this situation, is it any wonder that the military continues to be plagued by hardware and software systems that are extremely difficult to operate effectively and safely and to maintain?
HRED identified six areas of concentrated research and development and requested and supported this review of those areas. The areas selected are, in general, highly appropriate and important not just for improving military operational effectiveness but also for improving the quality of life for all people. Although this report raises questions about the quality of the research in some of these areas, it is clear that most of the staff are capable of performing outstanding applied research in the various areas reviewed. It also has been acknowledged that the facilities are being improved to support the empirical studies that are needed. Continuing to pursue opportunities for more collaborative interdisciplinary research would contribute further to HRED’s studying and modeling of complex real-world conditions. For example, bringing together investigators focused on auditory processing with cognitive neuroscientists might strengthen this area and provide more useful results. A growing awareness of the importance of engaging other similar research groups seems to be taking place in some of the topical areas, but there should be more workshops and visiting senior scientist positions, along with support to publish more papers in peer-reviewed journals and with co-authors from different laboratories.
Over the past 2 years, not much tangible in terms of new major findings has resulted. However, there exists a great deal of excellent potential for HRED to become a first-in-class research organization in several areas. To do so will take leadership that understands and respects the complex issues involved in performing cutting-edge, human-centric research and model development. Such leadership must manage the sometimes conflicting research goals resulting from the need for fast evaluations of new technologies and systems that are being rapidly deployed, versus providing scientifically valid, predictive models, methods, and principles to improve the design of future combat systems. With such leadership, HRED can become an outstanding national resource, given the excellent staff and physical facilities that are beginning to be available.