User Interaction with an Automated Solver - The Case of a Mission Planner

Cortellessa, G., Cesta, A., Oddi, A., and Policella, N

In PsychNology Journal, vol. 2(1): 140-162, 2004

An effective interaction with the user is a key aspect for the success of technological tools applied to both everyday and highly specialized tasks. This paper shows features of MEXAR, an intelligent system that solves a mission planning problem related to the MARS EXPRESS program of the European Space Agency. The paper describes the MEXAR interaction module developed to support human mission planners in a specific daily task, which consists in generating commands for downloading the on-board memory of the spacecraft. The interactive environment of MEXAR helps a user to analyze the current problem and takes planning decisions as a result of an interactive process enhanced by various elaborate facilities. Different interactive techniques have been integrated to address two different aspects: (a) developing trust on behalf of the user in the automated algorithms; (b) promoting a deep participation of the user during problem solving. An integral part of the tool development process has been a usability study on MEXAR'S Interaction Module, aimed at discovering possible problems in user-system interaction. This paper discusses how the enhancement of both transparency and usability of automated decision making tools is fundamental for users' acceptance of artificial support systems and their profitable deployment in real world applications.