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Distributed crisis management using remote collaboration technologies

Final Activity Report Summary - ESCRITOIRE2 (Distributed crisis management using remote collaboration technologies)

In this Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship, Dr Mark Ashdown spent two years at the Humans and Automation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Unites States, and one year at Thales Research and Technology in Reading, United Kingdom.

He investigated asymmetric synchronous collaboration for distributed teams by creating a system that links tabletop and handheld displays to allow information sharing, particularly within emergency response teams. A person in a command centre uses a large tabletop display to arrange information such as maps, timelines, and reports, and these are shared in real time with teammates in the field who have small handheld devices. These devices allow conventional voice communications to be augmented with sharing of visual information.

Various experimental user-interface features have been implemented. These include linked tabletop and handheld displays, telepointers for gesturing, visibility regions to aid awareness of what other users are seeing, a timeline representation for pending tasks, sketch input for entering routes on a map, and remote control of the handheld displays from the tabletop.

Findings include the following. Users preferred to have the extra collaboration features. The gesturing features resulted in increased deictic gesturing between people. People used various strategies for guiding one another and filling in reports collaboratively, which can inform the design of future systems. Remote viewing of the handheld display was deemed useful, but remote control of it was a source of confusion. As team size was increased, field personnel were given more autonomy and relied more on the software tools they were given. The implementation prompts the development of a data storage and transmission system that is tailored to synchronous collaboration, and is more general that the conventional audio and video channels of a videoconference.