Plaisant Lends Her Expertise to Cutting-Edge Transportation Project

Mon Dec 11, 2017

From a major snowstorm to an unexpected event requiring multiple road closures or detours, disruptions to our nation’s highways and connecting transportation systems can often lead to big problems and major delays—frustrating not only travelers, but also law enforcement and transportation officials.

At the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory (CATT Lab), more than 100 engineers, developers, researchers and students are working to provide officials with actionable insight that can help keep these transportation systems running smoothly.

Housed in the A. James Clark School of Engineering, the CATT Lab is especially interested in providing planners, operators and researchers with computer user interfaces that leverage big data to create robust visualizations—charts, graphics and tables—that can assist in transportation decision-making.

Helping in these efforts is Catherine Plaisant, a senior research scientist in University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.

Plaisant, an expert in human-computer interaction and computer visualization, is part of the CATT Lab’s User Experience (UX) Team. The team is tasked with creating novel user interfaces for the Regional Integrated Transportation Information System (RITIS), a web-based platform that warehouses big transportation data and hosts a broad portfolio of analytical tools.

John Allen, a faculty assistant at CATT, calls Plaisant an “integral part” of the UX Team.

“Catherine brings clear insight, intelligence and an innate talent to conceptualizing and developing interfaces and visualizations, critical to useful and usable next-gen analytics,” he says.

In particular, Allen says, Plaisant’s contributions and guidance have made RITIS tools easy to understand, simple to use, with great actionable visualizations that help those in the industry quickly identify problems and develop smart, cost-effective mobility, safety and security solutions.

He notes that as the CATT Lab evolves its tools to new datasets or requested features and functions, Plaisant’s expertise will continue to help advance the usability and usefulness of the lab’s tools.

For example, Plaisant has been involved in the creation of an Origin-Destination Data Suite, which will gain trip insight derived from leveraged geospatial data. This enables unprecedented understanding of vehicular movement information, such as origin and destination zones, diversionary routes during peak travel times (or from incidents) and more.

Plaisant, who also serves as the associate director of research at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab, says she finds the work at CATT to be rewarding.

“Research findings often take years or decades to impact the products people use, while the work with the CATT lab is rapidly implemented by a team of excellent developers and used within weeks by hundreds of operators and managers in transportation agencies across the U.S.,” she says.

—Story by Melissa Brachfeld