flying drone

Gamers demonstrate good judgement in drone operation, study says

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have carried out a study suggesting skills acquired by gamers through ordinary play could prove valuable in unmanned aircraft operations.

Rapid expansion of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or drones in recent years – particularly in the US military, where many aerial missions are dangerous for human pilots – has resulted in a shortage of well-qualified drone operators. Drone operators are employed by military forces all around the world for surveillance, target practice and to drop explosives.

The skills required – such as hand-eye coordination and rapid processing of digital information – have some clear overlaps with skills developed by video game players. In order to assess whether gamers’ skills could be transferable in practice, researchers from University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society teamed up for a study with colleagues from the Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering.

In their study, they explored the appropriateness of three potential UAS candidate groups: gamers, private pilots and professional pilots.

Researchers put 60 participants through a series of exercises, requiring 21 potentially risky decisions to be made while flying a simulated civilian cargo flight. As danger increased, levels of confidence, accuracy and confidence-accuracy (relationship between accuracy and confidence) decreased for all groups. For more dangerous decisions, confidence of participants in choosing to intervene (rather than rely on automation) was lower for all groups.

The researchers found professional pilots and gamers were the most confident in their decisions, with gamers maintaining good confidence and accuracy throughout the different risky tasks.

“Understanding which potential supervisory group has the best skills to make the best decisions can help improve UAS supervision. Overall, video game players were less overconfident in their decision judgements,” said Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, who led the study.

“The outcome supports the idea that this group could be a useful resource in UAS operation.”

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