Meet the XR4DRAMA Consortium (II): Sotiris Diplaris and the Centre for Research and Technology – Hellas (CERTH)

4 out 5 team members: Sotiris Diplaris (2nd from the left) with his colleagues Stefanos Vrochidis, Ioannis Kompatsiaris, and Anastasios Karakostas (from left to right)

In this series of blog interviews, we further introduce the people and organizations behind XR4DRAMA by asking them about their work and their particular interest in the project. Our second interview partner is Dr Sotiris Diplaris of ITI/CERTH, the Information Technology Institute at one of Greece’s (and Europe’s) leading research centres.

1) When did you first get in touch with the concept of situation awareness and XR technology?

It’s hard to say when exactly, but we’ve worked on SA- and XR-related projects for quite a while now. For instance, there was beAWARE, which focused on decision making in emergency situations and also featured AAWA as a partner in disaster management. beAWARE led to the idea of employing XR tech for real-time situation monitoring and collaboration between field teams and control room staff. But we’ve also had several talks with DW, who told us that media professionals would really benefit from having detailed, immersive models of a filming location – before going there with a production team. As for XR tech, we’ve explored that in projects like MindSpaces, SO-CLOSE, and V4Design (the latter also together with DW).

2) Who is in your team – and what are your colleagues working on at the moment?

Dr Stefanos Vrochidis does overall coordination. He’s the head of M4D; that’s the Multimodal Data Fusion and Analytics Group of the Multimedia Knowledge and Social Media Analytics Lab (MKLab) of ITI-CERTH. Stefanos leads a project management team that consists of three more people: Dr. Anastasios Karakostas supports the coordination of XR4DRAMA by supervising research activities and use cases.  Spyridon Symeonidis conducts the daily technical management and the implementation of the web data collection mechanisms. As for me, my duties are the scientific and technical management of XR4DRAMA. Finally, there’s Dr. Ioannis Kompatsiaris. As head of MKLab, he’s involved in the high level supervision of the project.

…and the team member missing in the group photo (hi there, Pandemic): Spyridon Symeonidis

3) From your point of view: What are the most interesting aspects about XR4DRAMA?

The most exciting part of this project is that we use several technologies to improve areas of work and life that are really important and depend on situation awareness and decision making. Hopefully, we’ll be able to show how realistic VR or semantically enriched AR representations of environments can improve the way professionals work together. The concepts and applications we’re developing will add a whole new dimension to workflows that has never been explored before. 

4) What could be a challenge for the consortium?

The main challenge lies in combining all kinds of data sources and technologies that usually belong to different research fields. We have multimedia web content, drones and satellites, and sensors that enrich our repositories with environmental and physiological information. There’s analysis on a text, audio, video and sensor level, and interlinked results created via semantic technologies. 3D reconstruction techniques generate the elements of immersive environments while geographic information systems (GIS) are used to properly place the content in 3D space. It’s easy to understand that it won’t be trivial to make optimal use of all these components. At the same time, our designated users will only benefit if we put it all together really well.

5) When the project is over in late 2022, what kind of outcome do you expect?

We hope that the end result of XR4DRAMA will be a complete set of XR software that has been evaluated in two real world use cases, namely disaster management and media production planning. The infrastructure we have will be versatile and suitable for other scenarios and domains. Front-end tools will include a desktop and a mobile application as well as an AR and VR environment. We’ll equip professionals with a powerful solution that makes their work easier and safer. And of course, depending on the use case, the impact of XR4DRAMA may go well beyond professionals in the field: For example in the event of a flood, better decision making and disaster management will have positive effects for all people in an affected community.

Dear Sotiris, thank you for you time!

Our next interview partner will be Nicolaus Heise of DW.

Meet The XR4DRAMA Consortium (I): Martina Monego and the Alto Adriatico Water Authority (AAWA)

Martina Monego during a surveying mission in her district (Eastern Alps)

In this series of blog interviews, we further introduce the people and organizations behind XR4DRAMA by asking them about their work and their particular interest in the project. Our first interview partner is Martina Monego of AAWA, an Italian public body dedicated to the management and regulation of the Alpi Orientali (Eastern Alps) hydrographic district.

1) Martina, when did you first get in touch with the concept of situation awareness (SA) and or XR technology?

As a disaster manager, I’ve been familiar with SA for quite a while, but XR is a rather new thing to me. However, next to XR4DRAMA, I’ve also been involved in a (still unnamed) project that uses immersive technology for educational and training purposes. This one is about better engagement in learning processes and helping students improve their visualization skills. The basic idea is to simulate a flood in a very realistic way, so students can better understand the risks, the relevant aspects of preparing for a disaster like this, and the right behavior in case of emergency.

2) Who is in your team – and what are your colleagues working on at the moment?

The team consists of Michele Ferri, Daniele Nobiato, Franceso Zaffanella and myself. Michele Ferri is our development and innovation manager, in charge of coordinating hydrological research in the context of flood risk management, and the scientific lead. Daniele, Francesco and I are experts in hydrologic and hydraulic modelling, which includes data assimilation, flood forecasting, and flood risk assessment. As a team, we’re responsible for all kinds of projects. For example, we’re currently implementing a so-called Citizen Observatory (CO) on water in our district. In the scope of this CO, citizens provide information (e.g. on water and snow levels or flooded areas) via a mobile app. We then combine this information with other data and use it for early warning systems. The goal is to get a better picture of developments before and during a flood event and to facilitate communications between citizens, authorities, and agents in the field. In this way, we can increase the effectiveness of civil protection efforts. We also do presentations and training sessions for teachers, students, and civil protection volunteers.

Daniele Nobiato and Franceso Zaffanella in the Vicenza municipality control room

3) From your point of view: What are the most interesting aspects about XR4DRAMA?

Well, during disasters like floods, decision makers and first responders face a lot of stress – and need to understand the situation as clearly as possible, so they can act promptly, make the right call, and not waste valuable resources. X4DRAMA will hopefully help them do a better job – and stay safe. At AAWA, we’re very interested in achieving a level of situation awareness that is as detailed and reliable as possible. In our pilot – which we’ll explain in detail later on – we can hopefully do two very interesting things: In phase number one, we’ll collect web information, sensor data, and other sources to predict and simulate a specific scenario, so that control room staff can check and verify all necessary emergency procedures.

4) What could be a challenge for the consortium?

In my opinion, the main challenge is to have enough data and repositories available, so we can get to a good level or SA – or the representation thereof – and fully exploit the potential of XR.  Furthermore, our simulation should not be about high-end scenography, but about meaningful and tailor-made content that serves disaster managers. We need to effectively use the technology to support the work and ensure the safety of our first responders.

5) When the project is over in late 2022, what kind of outcome do you expect?

Our vision is to have an innovative and effective tool that improves emergency management in the control room, increases the safety of rescue units, and optimizes our resources.

Dear Martina, thank you for your time!

Our next interview partner will be Sotiris Diplaris of CERTH.