Want to be a pilot? You may already be in training

Posted on August 31, 2017

It sounds like something from a Hollywood  movie:  there is an urgent need for pilots to control unmanned aircraft and video game players are enlisted to fill the void and battle the evil space aliens.

But this isn’t too far from the truth, well apart from the evil space aliens (for now). It turns out all that gaming you are doing is also potential training.

Pilot a Drone

It is not too often that you hear about areas with job shortages, but there is an actual demand for skilled unmanned aerial systems pilots.  Unmanned aerial systems can range from small drones to large aircraft.  To be skilled in flying, in some cases large automated planes, does not just require knowledge of the machine’s controls.  There are also important decision-making skills required to know when to rely upon these largely automated units, when to provide instruction, or when to take over and manually fly.

Pilot a US UAS

UK researchers compared experienced pilots (private or professional) with video game players recruited from the University of Liverpool in a series of flight simulations with 21 different scenarios where they had to make decisions across three different levels of danger. In general, as the level of danger increased, levels of confidence and accuracy were expected to decrease. Already sounds like a video game.

The study showed that both professional pilots and video game players were the most confident in their decision-making ability and the researchers explained that this “may well be explained by the impact of prior experience, training and familiarity that both professional pilots and (video game players) have with mission-based tasks which involve split-second reactive decisions and that have implication in the real or virtual world.”

FlightLab controls for Pilot

Although there was no real difference between the accuracy of a professional pilot and video game players in their decision making, gamers exhibited behavioural traits that indicated that they were least likely to be overconfident in their judgement calls, which has the potential to lead to mistakes being made.  The researchers suggested the video game players instead exhibited more competitive traits.  This makes sense in the world of video games where confidence and careful calculation equate to success – though some may argue about overconfidence when playing competitive multiplayer games.

Automated unmanned air travel is a growing industry and it looks as though it will play a big part of our future.  And maybe us gamers are the ones who can lead the charge.

The article Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) operators’ accuracy and confidence of decisions: Professional pilots or video game players? was published in the Journal Cognitive Science & Neuroscience (Issue 4, 2017).