In the optimal control room, man and machine are one team
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Intelligent innovations

In the optimal control room, man and machine are one team

With 30 designs realized and 4 Brussels projects in the pipeline, designer Denis Javaux knows perfectly well how a future-proof control…

With 30 designs realized and 4 Brussels projects in the pipeline, designer Denis Javaux knows perfectly well how a future-proof control room looks like. ‘A single big screen is obsolete.’

Automation only works if the human operators have the knowledge and skills to intervene at crucial moments. And that is where things often go wrong. Denis Javaux, control room designer at Symbio, knows it all too well: ‘In the Eighties, when passenger planes started to fly with automatic pilots, a few major accidents occurred. People did not understand what the computers did, or responded too slowly or wrongly. In short: man and machine were no team.’

Those problems are also occurring today in accidents with self-driving cars. Drivers neglect the monitoring of the autopilot. Their response is wrong or comes too late. This also happens in contemporary control, says Denis Javaux. ‘Complete reliance on automation makes you lose your skills. A perfect human-automation interaction is critical for a well-functioning control room. ‘

A control room is no static physical space but a flexible, operational and connected machine

Denis Javaux, control room designer at Symbio

From autopilot to co-pilot

Frequent control room staff trainings can solve this problem. In the near future, control room systems will be able to check if they are sufficiently monitored by humans. Denis Javaux: ‘These adaptive systems check if operators pay enough attention. If they are occupied with other tasks, the system adapts its automation level accordingly. Automation is evolving from autopilot to co-pilot.’

The giant screen displaying all kinds of information is also outdated. Denis Javaux: ‘Control rooms like the ones we know from the NASA rocket launches look impressive, but in the field we learn that no one really uses them. More but smaller and individual screens, closer to the user – on their desk, or a few metres away – are more ergonomic, comprehensive and user friendly.’

Ready for the future

Today, Symbio and the Brussels technology company Namahn are installing four new control rooms in Brussels: the underground network of STIB/MIVB, the tunnel and traffic light control Mobiris, the grid of electricity provider Coreso, and consoles for the Thalys high-speed train network. All these projects have a common denominator, says Denis Javaux. ‘They are future-proof. In other words, they are flexible. No control room can remain unchanged for 10 years. The technology is evolving at lightning speed.’

A future proof control room is a platform that can be enhanced with new technology, both hardware and software. You can also move certain segments, desks, screens or consoles to better fit those changes. ‘A control room is no static physical space’, Denis Javaux concludes. ‘It is a flexible, operational and connected machine. A machine that will dramatically evolve over the next few years due to new technologies such as virtual reality remote control. In the future, controllers will be increasingly interconnected with one another and external collaborators. Smartphones and tablets will become part of the security operations, in order to transmit even more real time data. A smooth, reliable digital communication between these various sources is essential in tomorrow’s control room.’

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