Real-time Weather to the Dashboard? Lessons Learned from 15 Years of Weather Technology in the Cockpit Studies

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 5:00 PM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
John M. Lanicci, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ., Daytona Beach, FL

The concept of collecting and processing real-time surface weather data from vehicles such as automobiles has been gaining traction as wireless technologies have matured over the last 5 years. Indeed, many potential uses for such data have been advanced, such as creation of specialized products identifying hazardous surface weather conditions (e.g., fog areas, icy roads), and assimilation of the data into numerical weather prediction models. However, in contrast to the research regarding transmission of real-time surface weather data from vehicles, there has been a rapid move towards transmitting real-time weather information and products to vehicles. This latter concept has already been developed and implemented by several vendors, and at least two automakers (Toyota and Lexus) already offer real-time weather information in a dashboard display in their 2013 and 2014 models.

The author believes that these recent advances in automobile computer technology have important parallels with advances in airplane cockpit technology over the last 10 years (e.g., the “glass cockpit”). Weather is just one of a seemingly endless list of potential data sources that can now be transmitted in real-time to airplane cockpits. While real-time weather in the cockpit has demonstrated advantages in improving a pilot's situational awareness, there are also a number of significant problems that have also arisen from this technology. For example, studies have shown that the addition of real-time weather information in the cockpit has caused pilots to fly into hazardous areas where they would not have otherwise ventured, based on a false sense of confidence derived from their weather display. Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a Safety Alert concerning the time latency of weather radar mosaics created from NEXRAD imagery and transmitted to pilots in the cockpit via governmental and private-sector satellite service providers. Human-factors issues such as “heads-down time” (i.e., the amount of time a pilot spends looking at displays instead of flying the airplane) and “high-glance value” (i.e., the readability and comprehensibility of a display while minimizing pilot distraction) are just two of the challenges that have arisen as a result of the integration of real-time weather information into airplane cockpits. This paper looks at the results of weather-technology-in-the-cockpit research over the last 15 years to develop a list of potential problems that will likely result from the rapid development of weather technology pushed to the automobile, unless similar types of human-factors studies are conducted.