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Sedlmair, Michael (2010): Visual Analysis of In-Car Communication Networks. Dissertation, LMU München: Fakultät für Mathematik, Informatik und Statistik



Analyzing, understanding and working with complex systems and large datasets has become a familiar challenge in the information era. The explosion of data worldwide affects nearly every part of society, particularly the science, engineering, health, and financial domains. Looking, for instance at the automotive industry, engineers are confronted with the enormously increased complexity of vehicle electronics. Over the years, a large number of advanced functions, such as ACC (adaptive cruise control), rear seat entertainment systems or automatic start/stop engines, has been integrated into the vehicle. Thereby, the functions have been more and more distributed over the vehicle, leading to the introduction of several communication networks. Overlooking all relevant data facets, understanding dependencies, analyzing the flow of messages and tracking down problems in these networks has become a major challenge for automotive engineers. Promising approaches to overcome information overload and to provide insight into complex data are Information Visualization (InfoVis) and Visual Analytics (VA). Over the last decades, these research communities spent much effort on developing new methods to help users obtain insight into complex data. However, few of these solutions have yet reached end users, and moving research into practice remains one of the great challenges in visual data analysis. This situation is particularly true for large company settings, where very little is known about additional challenges, obstacles and requirements in InfoVis/VA development and evaluation. Users have to be better integrated into our research processes in terms of adequate requirements analysis, understanding practices and challenges, developing well-directed, user-centered technologies and evaluating their value within a realistic context. This dissertation explores a novel InfoVis/VA application area, namely in-car communication networks, and demonstrates how information visualization methods and techniques can help engineers to work with and better understand these networks. Based on a three-year internship with a large automotive company and the close cooperation with domain experts, I grounded a profound understanding of specific challenges, requirements and obstacles for InfoVis/VA application in this area and learned that “designing with not for the people” is highly important for successful solutions. The three main contributions of this dissertation are: (1) An empirical analysis of current working practices of automotive engineers and the derivation of specific design requirements for InfoVis/VA tools; (2) the successful application and evaluation of nine prototypes, including the deployment of five systems; and (3) based on the three-year experience, a set of recommendations for developing and evaluating InfoVis systems in large company settings. I present ethnographic studies with more than 150 automotive engineers. These studies helped us to understand currently used tools, the underlying data, tasks as well as user groups and to categorize the field into application sub-domains. Based on these findings, we propose implications and recommendations for designing tools to support current practices of automotive network engineers with InfoVis/VA technologies. I also present nine InfoVis design studies that we built and evaluated with automotive domain experts and use them to systematically explore the design space of applying InfoVis to in-car communication networks. Each prototype was developed in a user-centered, participatory process, respectively with a focus on a specific sub-domain of target users with specific data and tasks. Experimental results from studies with real users are presented, that show that the visualization prototypes can improve the engineers’ work in terms of working efficiency, better understanding and novel insights. Based on lessons learned from repeatedly designing and evaluating our tools together with domain experts at a large automotive company, I discuss challenges and present recommendations for deploying and evaluating VA/InfoVis tools in large company settings. I hope that these recommendations can guide other InfoVis researchers and practitioners in similar projects by providing them with new insights, such as the necessity for close integration with current tools and given processes, distributed knowledge and high degree of specialization, and the importance of addressing prevailing mental models and time restrictions. In general, I think that large company settings are a promising and fruitful field for novel InfoVis applications and expect our recommendations to be useful tools for other researchers and tool designers.