In Use Cases, Visualization

Let’s imagine a world where people use Augmented Reality for a moment. Pull up a bean bag chair and we will pretend we’re at PARC. First, we need a story. How about an earthquake in a big city? Hundreds of water pipes can break in a quake. Oakland, CA is a good example. Their average water pipe is 80 years old, with some pipes dating back to the 1880’s .

Enter John, a water utility superintendent in Oakland and ardent “Star Trek” fan, who is in the middle of a busy day in the field when the quake hits. The ground shakes, roads crack, bridges sway, and hundreds of John’s water pipes burst.

He drives a truck, so he can get creative in accessing the sites despite traffic congestion. Besides, he likes off-roading and this is a great excuse to use government property to do such.  He needs to decide quickly which pipes to repair first, but headquarters is without power and thus no help. Where should he direct his crews?

John pulls up his augmented reality app and accesses an interactive tree map to help solve his dispatching problem. Here is a mock-up of John’s view:

Water-AR“Wait,” you say, “treemaps in an earthquake?”

Yes! Treemaps are for real. They provide a fast, visual way to sort information into an easily scanned hierarchy. Scanning spreadsheets or tabular data is difficult and time consuming.

But will people use treemaps?

Ben Schneiderman of Perceptual Edge explores sales, product and even coffee flavor tree maps in a brief paper outlining the effectiveness of this visualization. So we know they are useful in a range of scenarios.

Back in 2010, Marcos Weskamp made a news tree map that demonstrated the ease of scanning and filtering content. He is now Head of Design at Flipboard, the successful web site and app that uses related information architecture to build treemaps for content curation.

Still not sold? Even the big guys are loving treemaps.

Microsoft is adding treemaps to Excel 2016.

At Oracle, the advanced user interfaces division recently published a paper entitled “Enterprise Network Monitoring Using Treemaps.” Study participants using treemaps performed better and were faster than those using tables when:

  • Identifying or counting items
  • Comparing using one or more criteria
  • Doing advanced comparison
  • Performing open-ended analysis

Okay, now back to the story.

John is in his truck in the middle of an earthquake and doesn’t have time to crawl through pages of tabular data when there is so much commotion around him. He needs better, more intuitive tools to help him make fast, accurate decisions. Hence, interactive tables in augmented reality.

Augmented Reality is a great way to represent non visible aspects of reality to support cognition during critical thinking. John can visually filter through the most significant water breakages to minimize the impact of the earthquake on his community.

John can quickly navigate the breakage alerts by population density, risk, electrical asset proximity and more. He filters his list by predicted water loss–Oakland’s in a drought and can’t afford to lose large amounts of water–and immediately dispatches crews to circumvent any further water loss.

But more importantly, John gets to live his “Star Trek” dream of working like Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge.

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