The aim of the project is to develop a flexible multimedia application to organise and improve the efficiency of operators performing every-day activities in the field. It will run on corporate information systems and on portable (mobile) personal computers, with cooperation between these two. It will help:
- The company's operations managers to organise and allocate tasks to field operators.
- The field operators to gather and validate multimedia geographic, alphanumeric and maintenance data (including voice register data and photographs) about existing equipment and facilities. It will also provide guidance and assistance in the inspection, maintenance, operation and modification of equipment.
In order to provide this functionality, the application will be divided in two cooperative subsystems: A central subsystem, running in the local operational control centres, will connect to the corporate information system. A remote subsystem, running on portable computers that the operators carry in the field, will support the individual operators and may communicate online with the central subsystem if necessary.
The application will be used in three main steps:
1. All existing corporate data (photographs, voice registers, geographic, alphanumeric, operational, maintenance and other data) and related knowledge (rules, norms, constraints and other knowledge) about the company's facilities in a selected zone are downloaded from the central computer to the portable personal computer.
2. The operator visits the zone concerned. The application will help the operator to perform the activities required by providing intelligent multimedia support. New data will probably be generated from such activities. A real-time connection to the central system can be established where necessary, and some procedures may be carried out in a classical client-server mode. Important information (e.g. safety-critical information) can be transferred to the central system over mobile communication links.
3. Once the field operator has returned to the central installation, the data will be used to update the corporate databases, which will always be active. Integrity-assurance methods will be used in this.
Special attention will be paid to the development of intelligent multimedia assistant modules to facilitate the task of gathering and validating new data, including comparing new data with existing data. These modules will also guide the field staff through different operational and maintenance tasks. In order for the system to be user-friendly and easy to learn, multimedia technologies will be fully applied in the interface design. The integration of spoken, written and graphical information will result in better and faster understanding of actions required, augmenting the operator's efficiency and reducing the need for in-depth training. Explanations will be provided to operators at their request in order to increase acceptance of the system. A declarative approach will be used in the design of the system, in order to facilitate customisation of the modules in the generic framework to particular application instances.
The market possibilities for the proposed project are considerable. These kinds of applications are crucial to utility companies, city councils, civil engineering firms, and all kinds of companies which include dispersed installations and where field operators must perform increasingly complex operations. The important cost savings which may be obtained with its use will clearly justify the system.
The consortium includes a software company with important experience in the development of knowledge-based systems, databases and multimedia applications, an electricity utility covering a wide geographic area and which is currently trying to solve the central application problem the project addresses, a software company specialising in the development of GIS (geographic information systems) and multimedia-based applications, a company with extensive experience of RTD for electricity utilities and particular expertise in user-centred design methodologies for the production of field support and control room software, and a university group specialising in multimedia software.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts
CH1 6ES Chester