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UniSA Designs Digital Tool to Visualise Complex Data

Researchers at the University of South Australia have designed a digital tool to help the police, defence industry – and now child protection services – translate complex data into a visual story, saving hundreds of hours of time.

The narrative visualisation tool, developed by Dr Andrew Cunningham, Dr James Walsh, and Prof Bruce Thomas, has already allowed the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to create snapshots of crime by distilling mountains of case notes and briefs into image-based stories. The software helps prosecutors, lawyers and juries get up to speed in the courtroom so they can more easily understand complex facts, saving hours of admin and time.

Dr Walsh, a postdoctoral researcher at UniSA STEM, says the software identifies key events of a criminal case, selecting the most relevant data from case notes and presenting it in an easy-to-grasp snapshot, whilst still being able to dig into the details.

Another domain that has expressed interest is child protection. For each child coming into foster and emergency care, government departments are having to plough through years of their history. The tool can help to build a narrative of each child by identifying key dates, events, and an overall summary of their life.

The narrative combines text with images, video, scans, and voiceovers to present a snapshot that filters out the most critical information. It was noted that the tool is a marriage of computer science, statistics, graphs, artificial intelligence, artistic design and storytelling. For digital systems, the team is collecting more data, whether that’s from notes, automated sensors, spreadsheets, video, audio and even x-rays. The researchers have worked on the tool to integrate with data from different domains.

A new project with BAE Systems is also examining other narrative visualisation concepts to map the life cycles of defence machinery, tracking the operational and service histories of warships, combat vehicles and aircraft. The tool is useful wherever there is huge complexity – in logistics, transport, healthcare, and finance, for example – and need to summarise the most important elements.

“The beauty of it is that we can create specific models for each domain. For criminal cases, we can focus on pulling out information that relates to charges. For loan applications, we can identify a person’s financial history. Basically, we can rank the material to prioritise the information we care about and then present it in a visual form,” Dr Walsh says.

Dynamic graphics and interactive news stories have been part of the online media landscape for several years now, as a response to waning attention spans, the slow death of print, and a global embrace of digital media.

This trend is now spreading beyond the confines of newsrooms and becoming part of the fabric of many industries, the researchers say. The tool has been acquired by a Melbourne-based software company for commercialisation.

According to recent market research, the global data visualisation tools market is projected to grow from US$5.9 billion in 2021 to US$10.2 billion by 2026, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11.6% during the forecast period.

Various factors such as the growing demand for an interactive view of data for faster business decisions and increasing developments in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to enable the interaction of companies with data in 3D formats are expected to drive the demand for data visualisation tools.

The data visualisation tools market has witnessed several advancements in terms of tools offered by the industry players. Verticals such as manufacturing, retail, and energy and utilities have witnessed a moderate slowdown, whereas BFSI, government, and healthcare and life sciences verticals have witnessed a minimal impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to the increased use of line charts, bar charts, and choropleth maps in the news. Simple data visualisations have become the key to communicating vital information about the coronavirus pandemic to the public.

While these terms might not be familiar to all, the visualisations themselves certainly are. One of the most interesting developments due to the current COVID-19 crisis is that organisations that excel at the developments of dashboards centralise analytics and decision-making approaches and scale them exponentially across all connected channels.

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