Professor Michael Regan: The Human Element
Professor Regan, who prefers to be called Mike, is a distinguished member of the international Human Factors and road safety research communities. His professional history includes international appointments in transport safety, work in Australian aviation research and the role of Chief Scientist at the Australian Road Research Board. He has designed and led around 200 research projects in transportation safety, spanning aircraft, motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses and trains.
He has authored 250 published documents, three books, and sits on the Editorial Boards of four peer-reviewed journals. Needless to say, rCITI is very happy to have such an experienced and renowned researcher on board, pardon the pun!
Human Factors (HF) has been called the science of people at work. It is a body of knowledge and a process of user-centred design in a multi-disciplinary profession that brings together scientists, psychologists, physiotherapists, designers, lighting experts and engineers who seek to understand human behaviour: the limitations and the capabilities. The applications of HF research are broad and varied: workplace design, ergonomics, information display, transport planning, healthcare and patient safety, human-computer interaction, product and environment design, forensics and risk management are just a few. It is a research field that deals with elusive human traits like attitudes, preferences, skills, knowledges, emotions, aptitudes, experiences, perspectives and performance. In the past these human factors have often been labelled ‘soft data’, but by combining qualitative and quantitative data methods, HF creates data bases that includes these essential ‘soft’ elements of planning, transforming human perception into measurable factors that can be employed in design, implementation and evaluation.
how do we design algorithms that define what a vehicle should pay attention to from moment-to-moment when we don't yet fully understand what human drivers should pay attention to at any moment in time?
Professor Mike Regan
While HF science has been around since the early 20th century, it is only in the last 40 years that it has been employed widely. So, in some ways, it is still a burgeoning discipline, recognised now as a pivotal aspect of technological development, especially as human interaction with automated systems grows exponentially.
Mike is clear about his role at CVEN: “I am here with 3 mandates: to set up a research program in human factors in transport engineering, to set up a similar program in human factors in civil engineering and to establish undergraduate and postgraduate teaching programs that will encompass both”. In 2019 CVEN will offer the first HF teaching program in Australia. “Human Factors in Civil and Transport Engineering will focus primarily on user-centred design of the road and traffic management system to enhance road user safety, efficiency and satisfaction - and ultimately, a more efficient and user-friendly transport system”.
Within rCITI Mike intends to innovate by employing user-centred, research and design of proposed transport systems, especially automated vehicles: optimising their safety, efficiency, comfort and usability. One focus will be on driver behaviours, such as inattention and distraction. In a recent article that gained huge media traction Professor Regan said “how do we design algorithms that define what a vehicle should pay attention to from moment-to-moment when we don't yet fully understand what human drivers should pay attention to at any moment in time? Poorly designed automation could make vehicles as vulnerable to inattention as humans.” Technology cannot be designed in a silo, it has to be designed in relationship with the human beings that will utilise it. Already, since arriving at CVEN Mike has developed two large research programs: “one concerned with education and training requirements for drivers of partially automated vehicles, and the other concerned with the development of methods for testing the distractibility of technologies in new cars - with the aim of introducing the test methods into the Australian New Car Assessment Program (NCAP)”.
Other areas of interest for Mike will be vehicle, road and traffic design and evaluation. But the research opportunities for HF are almost limitless because engineering is about human beings: in construction it is an obvious fit because of the need to know how humans interact with the structures we build and inhabit. But it is also vital in water research for such lifesaving work as refining flood evacuation processes.
There are certain projects of which Mike Regan is particularly proud. The DriveSmart interactive digital program was developed for inexperienced drivers and was adopted by the Victorian government. “This interactive program takes you through a range of driving scenarios and quizzes, where you need to make safe driving judgements. It will also help improve your hazard perception, scanning and concentration skills. It's the perfect digital partner to the real-world experience you get in a car.”
The Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) also employed Mike to run on-road evaluations of vehicular warning systems. An ARC Linkage grant allowed him to research design of visual information in highway environments. These and the rest of Mike’s many, many projects have created safer environments and vehicles by focusing on interaction; accepting human limitation, enhancing human capabilities and designing around these behaviours. It is this valuable work that he will continue at CVEN and rCITI.