, Former Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Virtual collaboration is increasingly needed in traffic management to help experts communicate traffic-related information between people in the command center and the field, between command centers, or even within large command centers between stations that are widely separated. Much of the information exchanged, such as the location of incidents and traffic flow, is inherently spatial. However, current tools for virtual collaborations do not provide much support for communication of spatial concepts beyond shared images and videos. In particular, what is lacking is an easy, natural way to convey hand gestures when discussing spatial concepts. If listeners cannot see the gestures of the speaker when discussing special concepts, it results in more misunderstandings and more time to complete tasks. This research developed demonstration technology that can overlay hand videos on spatial images such as traffic maps and assessed the impact of this technology on virtual collaboration. The work explored to what degree gestures affect collaboration effectiveness in the task of traffic incident management, with the goal of informing the design of tools to support virtual collaboration in this domain. In this research, 18 participants worked in pairs to solve three traffic incident scenarios using three different interaction approaches: 1) face-to-face, for which participants worked together by marking up an electronic map projected on the table in front of them; 2) separated, for which participants were separated by a soft wall while they worked together on the electronic map with electronic drawing tools; or 3) hand images, which was the same as #2, but with the addition of the partner's hand images projected on the map. Participants were video recorded and given questionnaires after each trial to evaluate workload, positive interactions, team behaviors, connection to teammates, and frustration. Findings showed that participants spent more time on the task and perceived a higher level of time pressure when using hand images than when working face-to-face. When working face-to-face, participants felt more like their teammate was at the same table and felt less disconnected from their teammate than when working separately or using hand images. Conclusions indicate that adding hand videos to a virtual drawing tool for the task of traffic incident management could increase team behaviors and change the way in which team members communicate information.