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August 5, 2015

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Moving up a gear

Simulator at Southampton UniversityErgonomists and human factors specialists play an important role in managing work-related road safety. Steve Barraclough looks at how Jaguar Land Rover has tapped into this expertise to keep employees safe.


More than a quarter of all road traffic incidents in the UK may involve somebody who is driving as part of their work at the time. [1] Coupled with the fact that British drivers face longer commutes to work, with the average journey having grown by over a mile in a decade, keeping both safe and comfortable while driving is paramount. Which is where ergonomics and human factors come in.

Ask the majority of people what they know about the former and the likely response is ‘how comfortable the driver’s seat is’. However, ergonomics plays a much wider role in car design and, importantly, how drivers physically use their vehicles. This means considering anything from the placement of an air conditioning dial, to how a teenager or elderly person sits in a passenger seat. Besides ensuring comfort and ease of use, ergonomic design, or the lack thereof, also has a role to play in safety in the event of an accident.

Virtual engineering

Nottingham University lecturer and chartered ergonomist, Glyn Lawson, has been working with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Britain’s largest car manufacturer, using the latest virtual engineering technology, as seen in the gaming and film industries, to iterate vehicle designs before they are even built. Engineers can quality test and make real-time design changes, long before the vehicles physically exist.

At JLR’s Virtual Innovation Centre, a series of projectors and motion-capture cameras enables engineers to not only see a vehicle, but also feel it. A giant simulator enables them to measure how drivers will use and view parts of a vehicle. Subtle design decisions such as how far a person needs to reach over to push the radio button or how far they need to stretch round in the passenger seat to hand their child a drink are all tested in this facility to make the driving experience as comfortable and pleasurable as possible. Even the ambience of the vehicle can be tested, for example, internal car lighting.

In the future, JLR’s test drivers and test passengers will also wear motion-capture suits so researchers can see how they will interact with the car as well as with each other. JLR’s designers can use these virtual vehicle models to test how the driving experience differs from person to person, for example, a female designer can take a virtual ride as a teenage male, seeing how seatbelt placement or the sculpting of a seat affects him.

Human employee factor

Taking three days to make, each Jaguar Land Rover vehicle must pass a staggering 600 robots and 9,000 people in the manufacturing process.

With the overall target that every operator is able to perform their tasks comfortably and efficiently, JLR’s ergonomics production manager Wendy Morris works with a team of ergonomists to support the vehicle engineering teams by optimising the company’s existing manufacturing facilities, so that they too, deliver good ergonomics.

To build a vehicle, people are working in the car, around it, leaning in through the door apertures or into the boot space. JLR’s manufacturing employees have many different work positions as part of their daily role to be accounted for.

For example, ergonomists conduct analysis with different colleagues to consider if taller colleagues can work without having to stoop and that shorter colleagues can reach comfortably.

With a new vehicle, ergonomists investigate processes, which may be ergonomically infeasible for the engineer to deliver. The team uses the same technology based in the Virtual Innovation Centre to model them and complete assessments.

The output is then fed back to the engineer in question. This helps them visualise the process, how awkward or unnatural a position could be and how this would affect the task’s quality and the employee’s health.

Virtual ergonomics

Ahead of the brand new Jaguar Land Rover XE production cycle, which was going into a new facility, the company’s ergonomists identified optimal work heights for the vehicle dependent on the task to be completed. This analysis was used to guide the facility’s design and the tooling that was to be installed.

The position of all the tools could be moved and the height of the chassis conveyor belt could be changed. As the ergonomist wearing a motion-capture suit simulated the movements required to fix together parts or make manual checks, the suit measured how far they had to reach, lean and stretch, to ensure people can achieve the task in the factory.

With the introduction of the supercharged engine to the new Range Rover Sport a key process was identified as being potentially unfeasible. Ergonomists analysed this process virtually in advance of the build using the motion capture system to understand the requirements of the tasks. This enabled changes to the component design to be made that enabled the feature to be available to end customers.

JLR Technology showcase

JLR Technology showcase

Driverless cars

Exciting times lay ahead for British motorists as Chancellor George Osborne announced an extra £100m of funding to ensure Britain “stays ahead in the race to driverless technology”. While autonomous vehicles could go some way to solving driver error, which still remains the most common cause of traffic accidents, the big question remains: “if drivers aren’t going to concentrate on the road, then who is?”

Professor Neville Stanton at the University of Southampton has spent over 20 years studying vehicle automation and believes that if we design the vehicle to provide continuous feedback to the driver – analogous to a chatty co-driver – we can reduce this kind of error substantially, but not completely.

Yet while technology can certainly support some driving shortcomings, the hands-off vision of the autopilot for cars is marred by concerns about the situational awareness of the driver, how they would take control in case of an emergency and, while the car is still equipped with steering wheel and pedals, the extent to which the human driver will be responsible for the vehicle. It appears to be a ‘Catch 22’: drivers are no longer required to drive, but are still required to monitor the computer that drives for them.

Therefore, how can working, reading, using email and the internet, the envisaged benefits of driverless cars, be reconciled with the need to keep an eye on the vehicle? The truth is nobody really knows. Professor Stanton says that, in an emergency, humans are more effective than automatic pilots. Up to a third of drivers of automated vehicles did not recover from emergencies in his simulator studies, and he has witnessed human drivers fail to intervene when automatic systems fail. The concern is that driver and automated vehicle may act at cross-purposes, with the driver believing the automated vehicle is in control of the situation when in fact it is not.

On the other hand, if drivers are forced to continually monitor the vehicle’s automation this does not diminish their workload at all. In fact, we know this monitoring cannot be sustained, with driver attention falling with increasing automation.

When required suddenly, a human driver is ill-prepared to take control from the vehicle. This means we may be asking the impossible, by taking away control from the driver while leaving them with all the accountability. Lessons learned from the introduction of aircraft automation appear to be going unheeded.

It seems drivers of the future will be held responsible for something over which they have little or no control. Not that this means we should stop researching and building automated vehicles – quite the opposite. We need to learn and apply the lessons of automation as used elsewhere (such as aviation) to the problems of driverless vehicles.

This means designing vehicle automation in such a way that engages the driver and accommodates gradual hand-over and hand-back processes in order to successfully integrate human drivers into the system. We need a chatty co-pilot, not a silent autopilot.



Steve Barraclough is CEO of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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