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Visual-information gatheringSandia teams with industry to improve human-data interaction

Published 14 August 2015

Intelligence analysts working to identify national security threats in warzones or airports or elsewhere often flip through multiple images to create a video-like effect. They also may toggle between images at lightning speed, pan across images, zoom in and out or view videos or other moving records. These dynamic images demand software and hardware tools that will help intelligence analysts analyze the images more effectively and efficiently extract useful information from vast amounts of quickly changing data. Sandia Lab and EyeTracking, Inc. will research and develop tools to improve how intelligence analysts gather visual information.

Intelligence analysts working to identify national security threats in warzones or airports or elsewhere often flip through multiple images to create a video-like effect. They also may toggle between images at lightning speed, pan across images, zoom in and out or view videos or other moving records.

These dynamic images demand software and hardware tools that will help intelligence analysts analyze the images more effectively and efficiently extract useful information from vast amounts of quickly changing data, said Laura McNamara, an applied anthropologist at Sandia National Laboratories who has studied how certain analysts perform their jobs.

“Our core problem is designing computational information systems that make people better at getting meaningful information from those data sets, which are large and diverse and coming in quickly in high-stress environments,” McNamara said.

Sandia Lab reports that a first step toward technological solutions for government agencies and industry grappling with this problem is a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement that Sandia has signed with EyeTracking Inc., a San Diego small business that specializes in eye tracking data collection and analysis.

“Both Sandia and EyeTracking are being helped by a direct link between each other,” said EyeTracking president James Weatherhead. “The hope is for both sides to come out with these tools and feed solutions back to different government agencies.”

Eye tracking monitors gazes, measures workload
In general, eye tracking measures the eyes’ activity by monitoring a viewer’s gaze on a computer screen, noting where viewers look and what they ignore and timing when they blink. Current tools work well analyzing static images, like the children’s picture book “Where’s Waldo,” and for video images where researchers anticipate content of interest, for example the placement of a product in a movie.

Sandia researcher Laura Matzen says such eye tracking data has been used in laboratory environments to study how people reason and differences between the ways experts and novices use information, but now Sandia needs to study real-world, or dynamic, environments.