Researchers help intelligence agencies make sense of complex data

xxx SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Law enforcement and defence agencies have access to more data than ever, with the ability to track suspicious activity using a range of technologies. But having access to reams of information is of little value unless you can extract something meaningful from it.

That’s exactly what a team of UniSA researchers is helping the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Defence to do – by making sense of complex data through visualisations.

Dr James Walsh, Professor Bruce Thomas and a team of UniSA researchers recently wrapped up work on the Data to Decisions CRC project, the Immersive Intelligence Pod.

Whereas once it might have been enough to track a suspect’s movements, intelligence agencies need to be able to follow multiple suspects and see their interactions with each other over time; or analyse multiple suspects’ movement to see their behaviour in relation to particular locations.

By using data visualisations and immersive technology, investigators can switch between views showing time, space and individuals or objects to reveal patterns that might otherwise have been difficult or time consuming to find.

The 2D map view can be used to confirm whether two objects (which could be suspects, vehicles or other objects) were at the same location.The 2D map view can be used to confirm whether two objects (which could be suspects, vehicles or other objects) were at the same location.

The team worked with the Attorney General’s Department and the Australian Geospatial Organisation to design this new way of visualising complex data. The new method of displaying data, called Cooperative Visual Analysis, can answer the question of whether Suspect A and Suspect B met, and if so, where and when.

Prof Thomas says: "We started working with the Attorney-General’s Department because they were interested in spatial temporal data, or rather, information that is on a map, but also has a time element.”

The visualisation works with space, time, and objects to reveal patterns.

The outcome of the project was the development of two novel visualisation tools - Braille Plot and Parallel Schedule View.

Lead researcher Dr James Walsh says the visualisation tools, together with a 2D map, allows entities to be analysed quickly and effectively.

The Braille Plot view shows the proximity of multiple objects (which could be, for example, suspects or vehicles) over time from a given location (or object). If those objects meet, their pots will appear to intertwine. It can also be used to identify where an object diverges from its usual movement between two locations.The Braille Plot view shows the proximity of multiple objects (which could be, for example, suspects or vehicles) over time from a given location (or object). If those objects meet, their pots will appear to intertwine. It can also be used to identify where an object diverges from its usual movement between two locations.

“Using the Braille Plot, on a map you can select a location of interest, such as a workplace or business, and then be able to see how far away multiple people, vehicles, or objects are from that location at any time,” Dr Walsh says.

The Parallel Schedule View represents a series of events, in keeping with a calendar-based application such as Microsoft Outlook.The Parallel Schedule View represents a series of events, in keeping with a calendar-based application such as Microsoft Outlook.

“The Parallel Schedule View displays the data in what looks like an outlook calendar. It shows how long any object that is being tracked is idle in a known location.

“When you combine these views it allows a comprehensive analysis of the data, and enables questions such as ‘did X and Y meet, and if so, where and when’ to be answers.”

The Australian Geospatial Organisation became involved with the project and pushed for its commercialisation.

The project has since been licensed to Esri Australia to further develop and implement at the Department of Defence.

“This is a win-win and exactly what we were hoping for,” Prof Thomas says.

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