The purpose of this proof-of-concept project was to determine the viability of leveraging the emerging technology, Augmented Reality (AR) as a new user interface for train dispatching. The result was HoloRail, a proof-of-concept train dispatcher user interface that uses AR to create a 3D experience from an open-source dispatching program. Dispatchers experience a track layout superimposed in their existing setting and can still see and hear what goes on around them. This new interface allows dispatchers to use hand and head movements, along with voice commands, to manage the same things that they do currently on their multi-monitor displays, such as track diagrams, alarms, train and station information, and setting of train movements.
User testing on this interface was conducted by Train Dispatchers from Utah Transit Authority (UTA), and Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). A total of 11 dispatchers and two support staff members participated in the testing. The testing was conducted in a series of one-on-one sessions with each dispatcher. Each session consisted of a short tutorial on how to interact with the AR interface, followed by dispatchers testing the HoloRail platform using the agreed upon test procedures. Feedback from each session was collected voluntarily from an online questionnaire.
HoloRail proved to be a viable solution for train dispatching and was positively received by the participants. Though the headset technology is not yet where it needs to be (too heavy, not comfortable, poor battery life); within the next few years, these limitations will no longer be a problem. A follow-up study should be undertaken that includes an interface between the AR glasses and a train dispatch system currently in use by dispatchers so that a more direct comparison can be made between the user of current display technology and the AR experience.
The final report is available.