Virtual environments for visualising information

For some applications, such as architectural CAD, its fairly obvious how you would start to place them in a 3D VR environment. In other cases there are fewer clues asto how information should be represented in 3D. Financial systemsM, applications that deal with the structure of knowledge, and interacting with databases are good examples, and cause us to have to be more creative in designing our environments. We also have to think harder about what aspects of data are best represented spatially, and which map best onto other attributes such as colour, sound, texture, movement or behaviour.

Here we see a financial application written by Loren Siebert for his M.Sc. It represents different stocks by coloured icons. The shape of each icon represents its stockmarket performance over the last 30 days. Particular indicators can be mapped onto colour, height above the ground, location on the ground plane, or can be graphed on the back walls. If something interesting is currently happening to a particular stock it is made to vibrate thus gaining your attention.

This model would let us see the performance of a portfolio of stocks at a glance. The representation can be nested so that each icon represents the overall performance of one portfolio and we can then see indications of interesting activity in any of them.

Gary Ng is currently working on different metaphors for visualising abstract information for his Ph.D. One piece of work that has come from that is the Information Tree shown opposite.

This is a way of representing the production performance of a public utility. In this area analysts have inspect an enormous amount of new data daily. To see details there is no substitute for looking at the raw figures, but the difficult problem is to get an overall picture of what is going on quickly. The tree is a way of mapping all the significant attributes of the data so that both the overview can be readily seen, as well as drawing attention to significant events. The metaphor was pushed quite a long way, using green shoots for healthy activity, and yellows, or dead brown wood for things that are "drying up". To indicate specific events, parts of the tree are decorated by shaped baubles, making quite an attractive Christmas Tree.

The current aim is to produce an "advanced interface" for the complex medical knowledge modeling activities of the Galen project. The challenge there is to represent the complex, and dynamically changing, relationships between a complex web of knowledge in such a way as to make it all readily comprehensible.

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