tool keeps it simple
Technology Research News
The old days of dotting miniature tanks
and soldiers across a map in order to plan military strategy may be coming
back in a virtual fashion. Researchers at the University of Arizona have
devised software that packs strategic information into a three-dimensional
model that can be run on an ordinary laptop.
The software uses symbols to represent real-life objects. Just as air
traffic displays have a universally-accepted set of symbols, the semantics
and syntax of which are clear to speakers of all languages, the software
has a set of symbols for military movements, said Jerzy Rozenblit, a professor
of computer engineering at the University of Arizona.
The set is based on standard military symbols. A square enclosing a circle
with an X through it, for example, denotes a mechanized unit, or troops
accompanied by armored vehicles. The software depicts the square as one
side of a cube. The other sides display information such as remaining
fuel, distance to destination, and strength of the force, said Rosenblum
"A simple display of that kind does not clutter the display from a visual
and perceptual point of view," he said.
These types of visualization concepts should help commanders make decisions
in complex battlefield situations, and their use is not limited to traditional,
conventional types of conflict, said Rozenblit.
The software could be used for plotting disaster relief, refugee relief
operations, delivering food supplies, or setting up democratic governing
systems in unstable political arenas, Rozenblit said. Any situation that
requires a lot of strategic information to be packed into a small space
and the various players to be moved around would benefit, he said.
The software is also widely applicable because it allows for sophisticated
visualization without requiring a lot of computer power. "We really don't
deal with high resolution, very detailed graphical representations. We
work on an abstract level, so this can be run on a laptop machine," said
The program has three levels, he said. The top layer displays a scenario.
The middle layer consists of the graphics routines and engines that drive
and animate the scene, Rozenblit said. The bottom layer is a simulation
model that executes the behavior involved with the mission. "What's really
involved here is an artificial intelligence component that lends decision
support," he said.
The simulation tool includes genetic algorithms that sift through the
thousands of available courses of action and narrow them down to, say,
five of the best options, Rozenblit said. “It takes seconds to generate
the options,” he said.
The options are displayed in a list for the commander, who can run them
in turn to see the consequences of each choice, he said. “We are now building
in the capability to run them automatically,” Rozenblit said.
Scenarios are created by the user and can be saved in a library and reloaded.
The symbols can be customized, or built upon the graphical elements already
in the library, said Rozenblit.
Since there is no coding involved, training is relatively intuitive. It
could be used not only to see possible courses of action, but also to
train commanders by checking to see if they make the right decisions,
The work is a nice use of artificial intelligence that could prove very
useful, said Paul Juell, an associate professor of computer science at
North Dakota State University. "Too many people try to produce beautiful
pictures and forget the goal of presenting information."
The system's winning point is that the information is clear despite the
use of spatial coordinates to present dense glyphs of information, said
Juell. "It is hard to present enough details to aid the decision process
but not to hide the underlying patterns."
These overall patterns are important for decision making, Juell said.
"Simple global displays, such a trend line, hide the local details. The
display produced by this project gives the best of both worlds," he said.
Because the system presents only good options and filters out the rest,
"the viewer [can] address the problem rather than having to deal with
hundreds of options," said Juell.
One limitation of the system, however, is that a suitable set of features
will have to be found every time the system is used in a new domain, Juell
The researchers plan to test the visualization system within the next
six months to gauge reaction times and error rates, and see how well decisions
are actually made, said Rozenblit.
Currently, the software is like a chess game with two players on opposite
sides. The researchers are planning to add the capacity for more than
two points of view. They also have plans to connect the software directly
to databases that will stream real-time information into the model, Rozenblit
said. Multiple points of view should be possible within a year; real-time
data support will take two to three years, he said.
The researchers are also looking at the effectiveness of the symbols,
and developing a graphical means of expressing probabilities and uncertainties,
such as the chances of a mission's success, said Rozenblit.
Rozenblit's research colleagues were Liana Sauntak and Faisal Momen at
the University of Arizona, Michael Barnes at the U.S. Army Research Laboratories,
and Ted Fichtl of The Compass Foundation. They presented the research
at the 2001 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics
held in Tucson, Arizona from October 7 to 10, 2001. The research was funded
by the U.S. Army Research Laboratories.
Timeline: now; 2-3 years
TRN Categories: Data Representation and Simulation; Artificial
Life and Evolutionary Computing
Story Type: News
Related Elements: Technical paper, "Intelligent Decision
Support of Support and Stability Operations (SASO) through Symbolic Visualization"
in proceedings of the 2001 IEEE International Conference on Systems, Man,
and Cybernetics, Tucson, Arizona, October 2001.
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