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SwRI software allows increased collaboration with remote sites

Java language makes multiple computer platforms possible

San Antonio -- September 1, 1998 -- Analysts at Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) have developed map-oriented software that allows increased collaboration with remote sites using a combination of Java and web technology. This software, developed using SwRI internal research funds, allows users to manipulate geographical data, such as roads, zones, or networks. The software can be applied to utility and pipeline networks, railroad and highway management systems, the military, telecommunications and county services, or any industry that relies on maps to plan, monitor, or manipulate networks.

Web technology allows users of the software to interact from anywhere in the world. "Because it was written using the Java programming language, any computer platform -- Apple Macintosh, IBM-compatible, or workstation -- can access it through a web browser," says Senior Research Analyst Stephen R. Johns of the SwRI Automation and Data Systems Division. "Also, because the software resides on a single server, updates to the software need only be performed on that server and are 'invisible' to users."

To run the software, users access the web page and log into a collaboration. Once in the collaboration, the user has access to the collaboration object repository (COR) and can view the maps, objects, and object properties available. "An object can be anything from a piece of real estate to a length of railroad track," says Johns. Information specific to those objects are called properties. For example, owner name, address, size, zoning code, tax history, and assessed value are properties relevant to real estate. "What's most useful about the software is that separate county offices, for example, can work to solve a zoning dispute without leaving their offices."

To modify an object, the user must "check out" the object. The user can then also change the properties assigned to that object or flag properties for later modifications. Additional users can log into the collaboration from anywhere in the world and pull up the same object to view the modifications of the first user. The other users cannot directly make changes to the object while it is checked out, but can use a chat feature to communicate, giving direction as to the needed modifications.

The COR, which runs as a Java application, controls the objects within and the distribution of changes made to those objects, as well as defines who is allowed in the collaboration. The graphical user interface (GUI) was developed as a Java applet, which allows for the web interface. The GUI draws background maps, a variety of graphical primitives, icons, and complex polygons. It also provides pan and zoom functions for the maps, as well as object manipulation functions to control visibility, stacking order, object location, object shape, and object properties.

SwRI analysts developed the technology to allow users from remote locations to manipulate spatial data in a distributed environment. The system displays static spatial data, as well as real time information from data feeds and model and simulation outputs. Using this software, agencies such as regional, state, and nationwide offices can easily track and modify such entities as communications networks, power grids, phone lines, school zones, sewer lines, and zoning areas.

For more information about the collaboration software, contact Maria Stothoff, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-3305, Fax (210) 522-3547.

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