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Sketch-Thru-Plan: A Multimodal Interface For Command and Control

By Philip R. Cohen, Edward C. Kaiser, M. Cecelia Buchanan, Scott Lind, Michael J. Corrigan, R. Matthews Wesson

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 58 No. 4, Pages 56-65

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In 2000, Oviatt and Cohen25 predicted multimodal user interfaces would "supplement, and eventually replace, the standard GUIs of today's computers for many applications," focusing on mobile interfaces with alternative modes of input, including speech, touch, and handwriting, as well as map-based interfaces designed to process and fuse multiple simultaneous modes. In the intervening years, basic multimodal interfaces employing alternative input modalities have indeed become the dominant interface for mobile devices. Here, we describe an advanced fusion-based multimodal map system called Sketch-Thru-Plan, or STP, developed from 2009 to 2011 under the DARPA Deep Green program, enabling rapid creation of operational plans during command and control (C2) for military ground operations. As background, we describe the challenges posed by ground operations for C2 systems and their user interfaces. We discuss how C2 GUIs have led to inefficient operation and high training costs. And to address them, we cover STP's multimodal interface and evaluations. Finally, we discuss deployment of the system by the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps. This case study involves the user-centered design-and-development process required for promising basic research to scale reliably and be incorporated into mission-critical products in large organizations.

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Command and Control

Command-and-control software must meet the needs of the commander and many types of staff, ranging from higher-echelon commanders (such as of an Army division or brigade) and their own dedicated staff to relatively inexperienced commanders of smaller units.1 Across this range, there is great need for a planning tool that is easy to learn and use for both actual and simulated operations while being functional in field and mobile settings with varying digital infrastructure and computing devices. No military C2 system currently meets all these requirements, due in part to GUI limitations.


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