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Distributed Cognition in Aviation

This project was begun in collaboration with my colleague and mentor, Donald A. Norman. I continued the work after Don left UCSD for Apple Computers in 1994.

The project focused on what pilots know about autoflight systems and how they use what they know to manage autoflight functions in actual flight.  Our principal product was the Integrated Mode Management Interface (1994).  The IMMI was intended as a replacement for the Mode Control Panel in a state of the art commerical airline cockpit. The IMMI gives the pilot a graphical user interface to the autoflight functions of the airplane. It provides a single location for assessing the current and projected behavior of the autoflight system, and controlling the autoflight system. It is based on a design principle that important conceptual distinctions should be represented by salient perceptual distinctions.

We installed a prototype of the IMMI in the Advanced Concepts Research simulator at NASA Ames Research Center and conducted a head-to-head comparison between the IMMI and the interface available in the 747-400.  The IMMI included a vertical profile display.  This early contribution to vertical profile displays was later noted in a nomination for Aviation Week and Space technology Laurels (2005). 


Hutchins E.  Comment le "cockpit" se souvient de ses vitesses.  Sociologie du Travail.  Special Issue on Travail et Cognition. 4:451-473, 1994.

Hutchins, E. (1995) How a cockpit remembers its speeds. Cognitive Science. 19, 265-288.

Hutchins, E & Klausen, T. (1996) Distributed cognition in an airline cockpit. In Y. Engeström and D. Middleton (Eds.) Cognition and communication at work. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 15-34.

Hutchins, E. & Palen, L. Constructing Meaning from Space, Gesture, and Speech. In L. B. Resnick, R. Saljo, C. Pontecorvo, and B. Burge (Eds) Discourse, tools, and reasoning: Essays on situated cognition. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag. Pp. 23-40. 1997