Data Comets: Designing a visualization tool for analyzing autonomous aerial vehicle logs with grounded evaluation

Screenshot of the DATA COMETS tool and illustration of the spiral grounded evaluation visualization development methodology.
DATA COMETS, on the left, is visualizing a flight log using (A) satellite image-based map, (B) attribute tree panel displaying the Overview tab, (C) timeline with all data selected, (D) line chart hover interaction, (E) flight path encoding selected attribute (altitude) with color, (F) filtered flight path with hover interaction, (G) filtered timeline, (H) glyph representing the current drone position from data selected encoding selected attribute (RSSI) with color, and (I) flight message drop down elements in All tab. On the right, we see a spiral representation of our semi-cyclical grounded evaluation development process. The process starts with Evaluation in the Early Phase and iterates infinitely towards user goals in the center. Total user involvement (represented by the user icons) should grow gradually with each iteration, eventually reaching the Middle phase (domain expert interviews) and Late phase (deployment and end user feedback). Expected products of each development stage are shown.
Autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles are complex systems of hardware, software, and human input. Understanding this complexity is key to their development and operation. Information visualizations already exist for exploring flight logs but comprehensive analyses currently require several disparate and custom tools. This design study helps address the pain points faced by autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle developers and operators. We contribute: a spiral development process model for grounded evaluation visualization development focused on progressively broadening target user involvement and refining user goals; a demonstration of the model as part of developing a deployed and adopted visualization system; a data and task abstraction for developers and operators performing post-flight analysis of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle logs; the design and implementation of Data Comets, an open-source and web-based interactive visualization tool for post-flight log analysis incorporating temporal, geospatial, and multivariate data; and the results of a summative evaluation of the visualization system and our abstractions based on in-the-wild usage. A free copy of this paper and source code are available at
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