Aboard a floating airport like the US Navy’s USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and thousands of lives are all managed by something that looks like a board game.

Called the Oujia Board, it’s an analog system in existence for decades and it’s how sailors keep track of where planes are and where they’re going. Researchrers at MIT are hoping they can digitize that system, make it more efficient and reduce any chance for error.

Jason C. Ryan, Ph.D. student, Humans & Automation Lab, MIT: "So the system we’re working with is called the deck operations course of action planner. It’s Navy funded research that is primarily investigating how humans and computers can work together and schedule operations on the aircraft carrier collaboratively.

"So rather than just a human or just a computer to do it it’s how we can get them to work together to use their own strengths in order to create better, more efficient and safer schedules of operation."

The DCAP system will keep track of equipment and people on a deck using RFID. In one room on campus the group has a digital representation of an aircraft carrier deck including people and machines. Whoever is in charge of scheduling can move aircraft forward or backwards in the schedule and the entire system will adjust.

It will also reschedule operations should one of the catapults that launches aircrafts stop working. In another building on campus, the research team built a small scale model of an aircraft carrier with moving models, all controlled by the DCAP system. Its purpose is to launch all of the models and then bring them back to land.

Ryan said that in terms of next steps he and his team want to focus on safety within the system, while writers of the algorithm will continue research to perfect it. A third team is working on gesture recognition so that UAVs or unmanned aeriel vehicles could be controlled by basic gestures.

Ryan said he doesn’t imagine a system like DCAP going into operation for about a decade because it will need to be tested to work flawlessly under both a  controlled environment and in wartime.