Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Working on the ADVISE project

For the past three and a half years, my colleagues and I have been working on ADVISE, a TSB-funded collaborative research project which has been developing a new toolkit for visualization and analysis. Besides NAG, the partners in the project were VSNi and the University of Leeds. VSNi have expertise in statistics, as implemented in their GenStat product, while Leeds have an international reputation for their work in visualization research. As for NAG, we've had some success with IRIS Explorer, a popular visualization toolkit which allows users to construct applications by connecting modules together via a visual programming interface.

We retained that interface in ADVISE (see Figure 1) because it has proved to be a rather intuitive way to create, modify and interact with applications. Thus, in this figure, the user selects modules from the repository on the right and connects them together in the area on the left. The widgets for controlling one of the modules are in the pane on the right at the bottom, whilst messages from the system are displayed in the area at top right.

In a similar spirit of re-use, the visualization and analysis functionality encapsulated within the ADVISE modules has come from porting just about all of the modules from IRIS Explorer into the new environment, and creating new modules that generate and process scripts of GenStat commands. We've used ADVISE to visualize and analyze a variety of data - see, for example, Figure 2, which is a display of some of the results from Christoper Goodyer's simulations of diffusion through skin.

So much for the re-use of old technology, but what's new in ADVISE? Well, its architecture makes use of recent technology developments in web services and distributed computing. This has several advantages, including the fact that it's easier to integrate applications built using ADVISE with the web (for example, running inside a browser), and that it's possible to connect ADVISE applications to other services (which could, for example, act as data sources).

To illustrate this ease of integration, Figure 3 shows a web-based application that's been created in ADVISE for the visualization of air-quality data. The window at the back shows the interface for selecting the location and duration of the data to be visualized, the next window shows that data displayed as a coloured elevated surface and the window in front shows the same data displayed as a 3D histogram. Widgets in the web page (linked to ADVISE modules) give the user a simple interface to the application - for example, allowing control over the type of display (surface or histogram), other parameters associated with the visualization, and selection of the next dataset to be displayed.

If you want to know more about the ADVISE project, or the system we produced, head over to our web page, which contains more pictures of visualizations created with the toolkit together with papers, posters and talk slides from throughout the life of the project. One picture you won't find over there, however, is the one below, which shows the whole ADVISE team (with the exception of Jungwook Seo and Colin Myers from Leeds) in all their glory at the end of the final project review meeting last month. There were (a lot of) other pictures taken at the same event, but this is the only one in which the project members aren't holding glasses.

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