Video Gamers Or Unmanned Aircraft Operators?

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Unmanned aircraft manned with video gamers.

Video gamers have embraced fast computers and virtual reality long before most consumers. Gamers spend their cash on custom built computers with super-fast video cards that can react and spin graphics in 3 dimensions. Gamers were the first to use virtual reality headsets to go deeper into the gaming world and enhance the experience.

It is easy to think of most serious video gamer players as spending all of their time in their parents basement playing games in virtual worlds, developing skills that will have zero benefits for the real world. But lately the virtual world is starting to intersect with the real world and no where is this more true than in military drone warfare.

New research from the University of Liverpool highlights the usefulness of Video Game Players (VGPs) as unmanned aircraft operators.

General Atomics surveillance drone

General Atomics surveillance drone

The move to significant automation has been a feature of aviation over the last 40 years. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) operations, commonly known as a aircraft which are unmanned, have outpaced current training regimes resulting in a shortage of qualified UAS pilots.

US predator drone fires a sidewinder missile remotely

US predator drone fires a sidewinder missile remotely – unmanned aircraft

In an effort to address this problem researchers from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, led by Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, and the Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering (Dr Mike Jump), explored the suitability of three potential UAS groups; VGPs, private pilots and professional pilots.

The participants, 60 in total, all took part in a simulated civilian cargo flight to enable the researchers to assess their levels of accuracy, confidence and confidence-accuracy judgments (W-S C-A).

The participants made 21 decision tasks, which varied across three levels of danger/ risk.

As danger increased levels of confidence, accuracy and the relationship between how accurate the decision was and the level of confidence applied to those decisions decreased.

The dangerousness of the decision also affected how confident participants were when choosing to intervene or rely on the automation; confidence was lower when the operator chose to intervene.

Professional pilots and VGPs exhibited the highest level of decision confidence, with VGPs maintaining a constant and positive W-S C-A relationship across decision danger/risk.

All groups showed higher levels of decision confidence in decisions controlled by the UAS in comparison to decisions where the operator manually intervened.

Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, said: “Understanding which potential supervisory group has the best skills to make the best decisions can help to improve UAS supervision. Overall, video game players were less overconfident in their decision judgements.

The outcome supports the idea that this group could be a useful resource in UAS operation.


The primary purpose of the Department of Defense (DoD) domestic aviation operations are to support Homeland Defense (HD) and Defense Support of Civilian Authorities (DSCA) operations and military training and exercises. While manned aircraft primarily support these missions, the operational use of DoD unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), in lieu of manned aircraft may be appropriate for some domestic mission sets, when sustained endurance efforts are required; unmanned aircraft provide superior capabilities; or physical infrastructure limitations prohibit the use of manned rotary or fixed-winged aircraft.

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