Entry Name:  SolarWheels

VAST 2013 Challenge
Mini-Challenge 2: Situation Awareness Display Design

Team Members:

Jack Shen-Kuen Chang, Computer Graphics Technology, Purdue University, chang230@purdue.edu   PRIMARY
Weiran (Tyki) Lei, Interaction Design, Purdue University, leiw@purdue.edu
Shuang Wei, Computer Graphics Technology, Purdue University, wei93@purdue.edu
Marlen Promann, Interaction Design, Purdue University, mpromann@purdue.edu
Yue (Aaron) Ma, Interaction Design, Purdue University, ma173@purdue.edu
Dr. Yingjie Victor Chen, Computer Graphics Technology, Purdue University, victorchen@purdue.edu
Dr. Zhenyu Cheryl Qian, Interaction Design, Purdue University, qianz@purdue.edu

Student Team:


Software Used:

PhotoShop, Illustrator, Flash, Camtasia, and Premiere

May we post your submission in the Visual Analytics Benchmark Repository after VAST Challenge 2013 is complete?






High-Resolution Image:




Live Demo:


Description of Your Design:

SolarWheels is a interactive situation awareness display designed to visualize the states and issues of a large-scale computer network. It not only provides the overview of the networks accurately, but also allows multiple operation analysts to interact with it smoothly to get further detailed information about specific issues.

This VAST mini challenge provides the space for designers to make assumptions of a control room setting and system requirements for a computer network. However, to understand more about the context, we interviewed a security analyst from a cyber-security center. Also, one of our team members has working experience as a social media behavioral analyst for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games who participated in monitoring the entire traffic network in and around London. Based on the knowledge of these two interviewees, we infer that Big Enterprise’s control rooms tend to be very hierarchical. This applies to both the personnel and the procedures.

The personnel in a control room are usually divided into teams to do different tasks based on their experience/skill level: juniors deal with routine and simple issues; experienced analysts get the non-routine issues, and experts are usually allocated to the crises issues.

Procedures tend to be strictly managed by team managers. They run the initial quick analysis, and allocate the task to a staff that is suitable and available to solve the issues. The procedure can be done via a software process or purely verbally. For large events like the Olympics monitoring, job allocation was done automatically.

image source image source

To emphasize and fit into the hierarchical nature of network control room, we aim to design this situation awareness display with strong characteristics of hierarchy. SolarWheels is inspired by the star systems in the galaxy, and the wheels commonly seen in our daily life. We applied the metaphors such as orbiting planets, solar coronas, planetary hierarchies, along with the circular shape and spoke element of wheels. Together the display is able to visualize the states and issues of a large-scale computer network in a straightforward and interactive way.

Visualizing the data

The main visualization of SolarWheels is organized by a series of “wheel” graphs. The number of wheels indicates the number of regions currently being monitored/displayed. For example, the system starts with seven wheels showing the networks of six continents and one headquarters. The wheel graph is an integration of pie diagram, wind rose diagram, and network traffic curves. Each wheel shows following different dimensions of information.

  • Badge in the center of wheel: the name of the region
  • Number of segments on the wheel: number of corresponding sub-regions
  • Radius of a segment: the amount of issues in the segment
  • Three rings in each wheel or segment: from inner to outer ring - showing statuses of security, health, performance
  • Issue dots on the rings: an issue happening on a particular ring of status
    • Issue dot color: issue severity, i.e. green for routine issues, yellow for non-routine issues, and red is for crises
    • Issue dot size: the volume of issues on a ring with a particular severity (e.g. number of networks/computers being affected)
    • Transparency of issue Dot: an issue is in a more transparent color when it has been assigned to an analyst and under investigated.
    • The orbiting sequence of the issue dots: the temporal sequence (history )of issues.
  • The outside variation curve of the wheels: network traffic

These wheels can grow and shrink while issues are taking place or solved. While the analysts start to interact with them, a wheel can split into sub-wheels hieratically to show the detail information of sub-regions. The expanded children wheels can also collapse back one mother wheel. The following section explains the interaction scenarios in more details.


To interact with a big display, previous researchers have identified three “zones of interaction” (and their respective modes) dependent on the distance and direction from the display: ambient zone, notification zone, and interaction zone [1], [2]. Referring to the literature, we design three areas for SolarWheels’ viewing possibilities: ambient zone, notification zone, and interactive zone.

According to our design, we introduce intuitive physical interactions with the information display. Proximity sensors and video cameras are mounted around the display to detect the analysts’ distance, focal point, direction from the display, and positions of their hands. Depending on the area of where a analyst is at, she/he can see different levels of details. Multiple users can also work together to check their own interested areas. Certainly the analysts in the control room can also use mouse or other cursors to interact with the graphs in traditional ways.

The right picture is the initial image of six continents.

There are three levels of zones (A/B/C) in the overall interactive zone.

  • Zone A - The Interaction Zone (2 meters radius): In this zone the analyst can see most details of information, e.g. the Midwest region of United States. She can also use physical gestures to interact with a wheel to carry out more actions, e.g. tap on an issue dot to see its detailed description, assign a issue to the corresponding personnel, pin/lock a wheel so it can continue the monitoring without collapsing back to its mother wheel.

  • Zone B - The Notification Zone (5 meters radius): When an analyst enters this zone, different stages of wheel expanding/collapsing will happen. For example, when an analyst enters Zone B from Zone C, the North America SolarWheel splits in to three sectors of Canada, United States, and Mexico. When she completely stops in Zone B, the three sectors will expand into three smaller SolarWheels.

  • Zone C - The Ambient Zone (beyond 5 meters): The analysts stand in this farther area, as if they are viewing a dynamic museum or gallery exhibit, to have an overall view of the computer networks with the highest level of hierarchy, i.e. the networks of the six continents and one headquarters.

[1] N. A. Streitz, C. Röcker, T. Prante, R. Stenzel, and D. van Alphen, “Situated interaction with ambient information: Facilitating awareness and communication in ubiquitous work environments,” in Tenth International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI International 2003), 2003.
[2] T. Prante, C. Röcker, N. Streitz, R. Stenzel, C. Magerkurth, D. Van Alphen, and D. Plewe, “Hello. wall–beyond ambient displays,” in Adjunct Proceedings of Ubicomp, 2003, pp. 277–278.