Fatigue, Trust, and Automation

Researchers at Texas A&M have been studying robots and trust. While much of this kind of work focuses on how much people trust robots and how programing can influence that, their particular research turned up a surprising results: the more tired people are, the more they trust automation.

The researchers didn’t take people’s word for how trusting they felt. Instead, they measured things like increased situational awareness. The operators payed more attention, watched the machinery more closely, and generally had more activity in the frontal cortex when they felt less trust in the machines they were working with.

This pattern was established by programming robots to behave in unreliable ways. Unreliable behavior naturally led to less trust on the part of the human beings. On the other hand, the moe autonomous the robots were, the more likely humans were to trust them.


Once the pattern was established, the researchers began to notice that people’s levels of trust changed over time. As they got tired, they were more willing to trust the machines. They paid less attention and gave the interactions less conscious thought.

Bad actors could take advantage of this. By choosing the right moment — say, the end of a night shift — to hack a robot’s programming, they could wreak havoc before the human beings noticed what was happening.

On the other hand, and perhaps more realistically, human machine operators might also be more likely to fudge on safety protocols as they get tired.

The problem

Human-robot collaboration is often premised on the idea that the robot will be able to repeat motions precisely for a long time, while the humans will have the situational awareness to keep quality control high.

Overtrust, researchers say, can lead to distraction during a task, to expectations that the machine will do more than it actually can, or misuse of the machine. Undertrust can lead to human operators essentially rejecting the help of the machine by taking over things the machine can do, or increasing stress and anxiety on the part of the human workers.

If overtrust is a natural consequence of human fatigue, that adds an additional variable to an already complex mix.

Outside the lab, you need to be able to trust your automation systems. When your Rexroth drive and control systems need support or service, you can trust us to get you back up and running fast.

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