Boffin develops real-time smartphone disaster management app

Clever bod Dr Mohamed Gaber, of the University of Portsmouth’s School of Computing (along with a group of researchers from Monash University) has come up with a prototype app for plotting disasters as they unfold in real-time.

The app, which could be used for assisting rescue services, as well as being applicable to other scenarios such as plotting patients' ECGs, uses clusters and a natural scaler so as the information on screen is always relevant and clear for the reader.

The app can also be set on a sound-only mode so information can be relayed to drivers, or those not able to view their device's screen.

Dr Gaber said: "Much research has focused on developing ways of analysing data in real-time but to date nobody has developed visualisation techniques for small screens.

"The problem of cluttered screens is well known and has long been studied, but everything developed so far has not found a way around making a phone aware of the extent of cluttering on the screen.

"It is an emerging challenge but it’s vital we allow mobile phone users a way of seeing the information they need in a way they can understand and use. It is only now that such a development is becoming possible."

On the screen the events are measured in two ways - the percentage of the screen occupied by clusters and the percentage of clusters that overlap. The user has the choice of the amount of clusters they can manage on their device's display and with a complex and busy situation, the phone image is automatically scaled down.

If there is too much information on show the clusters change colour, with black dots representing a hive of activity or data, grey a fair amount and white very little. 

"The main aim of data visualisation is to help users make decisions, so we have enabled the system to allow people to tap a cluster to find out more and incorporated an audio aspect so they can hear more information about a cluster without further cluttering up the screen," said Dr Gaber.

"This is especially useful to people in situations where they can’t look at their phone screen continuously, for example. Audio feedback also allows for the screen to be turned off entirely if battery levels are low and audio can then be used to sound an alert or an alarm if a cluster grows beyond a certain size."

You can read more about the project at the School of Computing pages on the UoP website.