VAST Challenge 2017

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Mystery at the Wildlife Preserve

About the VAST Challenge

The Visual Analytics Science and Technology (VAST) Challenge is an annual contest with the goal of advancing the field of visual analytics through competition. The VAST Challenge is designed to help researchers understand how their software would be used in a novel analytic task and determine if their data transformations, visualizations, and interactions would be beneficial for particular analytic tasks. VAST Challenge problems provide researchers with realistic tasks and data sets for evaluating their software, as well as an opportunity to advance the field by solving more complex problems. Researchers and software providers have repeatedly used the data sets from throughout the life of the VAST Challenge as benchmarks to demonstrate and test the capabilities of their systems. The ground truth embedded in the data sets has helped researchers evaluate and strengthen the utility of their visualizations. The VAST Challenge 2017 presents three mini-challenges and a grand challenge for you to apply your visual analytics research and technologies to help a sad state of affairs in a wildlife preserve. These challenges are open to participation by individuals and teams in industry, government, and academia. We encourage your submissions and look forward to seeing your innovative approaches to solving these challenges using visual analytics.

The Challenges

Note: This scenario and all the people, places, groups, technologies, contained therein are fictitious. Any resemblance to real people, places, groups, or technologies is purely coincidental.


Mistford is a mid-size city is located to the southwest of a large nature preserve. The city has a small industrial area with four light-manufacturing endeavors.  Mitch Vogel is a post-doc student studying ornithology at Mistford College and has been discovering signs that the number of nesting pairs of the Rose-Crested Blue Pipit, a popular local bird due to its attractive plumage and pleasant songs, is decreasing! The decrease is sufficiently significant that the Pangera Ornithology Conservation Society is sponsoring Mitch to undertake additional studies to identify the possible reasons. Mitch is gaining access to several datasets that may help him in his work, and he has asked you (and your colleagues) as experts in visual analytics to help him analyze these datasets.

Mini-Challenge 1

The Boonsong Lekagul Nature Preserve is used by local residents and tourists for day-trips, overnight camping or sometimes just passing through to access main thoroughfares on the opposite sides of the preserve.  The entrance booths of the preserve are monitored in order to generate revenue as well as monitor usage.  Vehicles entering and exiting the preserve must pay a fee based on their number of axles (personal auto, recreational trailer, semi-trailer, etc.).  This generates a data stream with entry/exit timestamps and vehicle type. There are also other locations in the part that register traffic passing through. While hiking through the various parts of the preserve, Mitch has noticed some odd behaviors of vehicles that he doesn’t think are consistent with the kinds of park visitors he would expect. If there were some way that Mitch could analyze the behaviors of vehicles through the park over time, this may assist him in his investigations.

Mini-Challenge 2

The four factories in the industrial area are subjected to higher-than-usual environmental assessment, due to their proximity to both the city and the preserve. Gaseous effluent data from several sampling stations has been collected over several months, along with meteorological data (wind speed and direction), that could help Mitch understand what impact these factories may be having on the Rose-Crested Blue Pipit. These factories are supposed to be quite compliant with recent years’ environmental regulations, but Mitch has his doubts that the actual data has been closely reviewed. Could visual analytics help him understand the real situation?

Mini-Challenge 3

As Mitch works independently, he realizes that he cannot continually visit all areas of the preserve to inspect for environmental impacts as well as he would like to. He realizes that his analysis would be incomplete without thorough surveillance and knowledge of the preserve health over time. Fortunately, Mitch has acquired data from some commercial multi-spectral imagers that have been routinely covering the nature preserve every few weeks. Mitch believes that a visual analytics approach can help him achieve an understanding of the preserve health and alert him to possible conditions that may be impacting his birds.

Grand Challenge

Mitch realizes that explorations into each of these three areas (covered by the mini-challenges) will reveal important, enlightening information. However, could there be relationships among discoveries made across two or even all of the investigations that could reveal even more about what is happening across the nature preserve and how it is happening. Mitch remembers that you mentioned to him how important it is to analyze not only what is happening, but the entire range of “who-what-where-why-when- and –how”. This understanding will enable him to pursue positive steps in helping to save the Rose-Crested Blue Pipit.  

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