What is Human Factors?

On a daily basis, I always get asked questions about Human Factors. What is Human Factors? According to Tech Target, “human factors (also known as ergonomics) is the study of how humans behave physically and psychologically in relation to particular environments, products, or services.” Many large manufactures and businesses hire Human Factors specialists to get involved of the process of production of a certain product. Human factors is also commonly known as the ‘common sense’ major. Here’s why: As a student, you use the computer a lot. Let’s say you bought a new computer and you sit down to use it. You start typing and you realize that you’re having trouble typing due to the letters being extremely close together. You, the user, is having a problem physically with the product, the computer and you’re not the only one. Turns out 97% of those who bought the computer had to return it and get a refund because of how close the keys were. Now let’s pause. This whole situation could have been avoided if the company had a human factors specialist. Had they had one, the specialist would have tested the product before mass production and found out that the keys were in fact too close together. Since the company did not do this, they are sitting there with thousands of computers that no one wants to buy and they ended up losing millions of dollars. See where the common sense comes in? Common sense would dictate that the computer would have already been tested before it even got to the user’s hands, but a lot of times, more than not, it isn’t.

Being a double major in Mechanical Engineering and Human Factors, I like to say that I get the best of both worlds. Human factors teaches me that you have to think before you do more than anything. However, human factors is not just the ‘common sense’ major, human factors is the backbone behind many research projects. One of which, was the NASA NEEMO 20 project. As mentioned in my previous blog, NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) is a project that focuses on underwater research to train astronauts for missions to the space station, an asteroid, and even Mars. In July 2015 the engineering & human factors departments took part in the project. The engineering side built a tower called ‘CORAL II’ and the purpose was for the aquanauts1 to build it underwater as well as have a test bed to conduct experiments. The human factors side took the part of training the astronauts. A human factors doctorate student, Kati Anglin, wrote up all the procedures step by step, line by line to build the CORAL II Tower. From a human factors perspective, we looked at how the astronauts coped with the procedures and how well they followed them. If there were any problems, we made sure to take note and change it during the pre-runs. It was a learning experience for both the human factors and engineering side.

The human factors department at Embry-Riddle is very invested in doing research. Some of the research projects being conducted include leadership training, social media use, team interaction and more. Human factors is a great way to get involved and learn about the simple and the most complex things just in one sweep! If you’re skeptical of human factors, I will tell you this: I was too. I actually didn’t know anything about human factors. I was coming to Embry-Riddle for engineering and engineering only. I ended up meeting Dr. Jason Kring2 by chance and he took me under his wing and showed me what human factors was all about. There was no pressure at all. I took my time and soaked up all the information I could about human factors. Now, I find myself at ERAU studying human factors and mechanical engineering, getting the best of both worlds.

No matter what major you are or what you plan to study, keep an open mind. You can pick it up as a major or minor or neither of those at all. The good thing is, you can participate in research regardless of your major. Even if you have ideas for research involving human factors, don’t be afraid to speak up! The Human Factors Department would love to hear you out and possibly take on the research study. It is a great way to receive grants and funding and also add it onto your résumé. Don’t be afraid! Come to the Human Factors Department today on the 4th floor of the College of Arts and Sciences!

1 – ‘Aquanauts’ is the name for astronauts and researchers who take part in the NASA NEEMO missions as the crew.

2 – Dr. Jason Kring is an Associate Professor for Human Factors and Systems at ERAU.

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