Transit disasters raise question of human/machine balance

08/7/2013 | Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription model)

Recent high-speed train accidents in Europe and the Boeing 777 crash in San Francisco raise the question of how much engineering can be used to prevent such tragedies without dulling the human element necessary when systems fail. "The designers of planes, trains and even automobiles increasingly automate some functions once performed by those who operate these conveyances, and from a safety standpoint, there is much to be gained by it," writes E.E. Lewis, professor emeritus in the department of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University. However, "pilots who become too accustomed to taking off and landing on autopilot may lose their expertise for flying manually when rare situations demand it."

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