NeoCITIES: Evolution on the verge of revolution

October 01, 2008

NeoCITIES, an important research platform in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), has evolved through more than two decades of work and now stands ready for a significant leap forward.

Under the leadership of Michael McNeese, IST professor-in-charge, NeoCITIES allows investigators to probe issues of distributed cognition and decision making in ill-defined, emerging situations, such as, the coordination of first-responder tactics as units speed to the scene of disaster of an unknown magnitude.

Operated under the umbrella of the MINDS (Multidisciplinary Initiatives in Naturalistic Decision Systems) Group  in the USE (User Science and Engineering) Laboratory , version 3.0 of NeoCITIES will be rolled out this fall. Managing the development of 3.0 has been IST doctoral student Ben Hellar, in collaboration with project assistant Loretta More and IST senior Rob Hooper, with support from IST senior technologist Brian Panulla.

Their work is producing both a markedly richer, more nimble user interface and as well as mapping capabilities more in synch with research goals in IST.

According to Hellar, the interface is now modularized to support the rapid prototyping of interface elements. This enables comparisons to be made between teams having use of certain mapping or other interface tools and others without them. Drill-down capabilities allow users to learn more than simply the fact that a simulated fire has occurred at a given location, but additional information such as what emergency units have been dispatched there, what their current progress is, and what further actions may be recommended.

Combined, the new interface components allow for a more precise focus on new research questions.

The biggest change from previous iterations of NeoCITIES is the addition of geographic information systems features of NeoCITIES 3.0.

"I've used the term loosely Neo-Geo," said McNeese. "It's NeoCITIES enabled with a number of geographical tools and layers we can put on the map."

"What really initiated this," he went on, "is the ability in this version to engage more in visual analytics."

NeoCITIES 3.0 features mapping services fed from an independent server supported by software developed by the GIS-specialist firm ESRI. Hellar indicated that this will allow for greater latitude in testing and experimentation. The ESRI mapping service brings the usability of modern Web-enabled maps such as Google Maps or Yahoo Maps to NeoCITIES, allowing for a quick toggling between a satellite image of a location and a street map image of the same spot. In addition, the new NeoCITIES capability leverages ESRI’s experience in map-making with the addition of new features such as the ability to overlay traffic flow data and population density.

The rollout of 3.0 not only will open up new possibilities for research in IST, but for Hellar as well since it will support his dissertation, "A Framework for the Investigation of Data Overload in Team-Based Distributed Cognition." NeoCITIES is an outgrowth of work begun in 1986 when A. Rodney Wellens, a visiting scholar from the University of Miami, implemented the original CITIES (Command, Control, and Communications Interactive Tasks for Indentifying Emerging Situations) simulation as part of the C3 Operator Performance Engineering program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. At the time, McNeese was a research psychologist in charge of the team performance and experimentation work unit at Wright-Patterson. Beginning with simulations that had simple story lines, CITIES allowed researchers to test the ability of teams to “connect the dots” and respond to a situation.

The two earlier versions of NeoCITIES had the flexibility to allow, with increasing sophistication, researchers to observe the actions of a single team attacking a problem and to look at varying degrees of interdependence among team members. The work of up to three teams could be studied as well as the performance of individuals.

Within the cubicles of the USE Lab are networked computers, shared interactive maps, a communications system, and other tools that allow subjects to play out emergency scenarios—sharing information, and allocating the resources of virtual police, fire and HAZMAT teams.

NeoCITIES has served as a test bed for numerous projects by McNeese and faculty colleagues Isaac Brewer, research associate; Madhu Reddy, assistant professor of IST; and David Hall , professor of IST and director of the Center for Network-Centric Cognition and Information Fusion( NC2IF). As well, NeoCITIES has supported the work of numerous graduate students.

In the future, simulations being carried out through NeoCITIES could potentially take on even more realism and authenticity thanks to a grant to support the development of the NC2IF’s Extreme Events Laboratory. Work of the NC2IF focuses on gathering tactical information through human observers (soft sensors) and by electronic or mechanical means (hard sensors). These data streams provide the information base for analysis, situational awareness and decision making.



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Last Updated March 19, 2009