Visual Analytics – Aerospace IRBs – SFU Press Release – May 2008/Sept 2009
IRBs and Visual Analytics: Cash, Data Bases, & Pretty Pictures
A Press Release from the SFU
Public Affairs and Media Relations
Offsets in the form of Industrial Regional Benefits are how the Federal Government recoups the value of a
contract awarded to a foreign company. The IRB program dictates that the total value of any
such award be re-invested in Canadian firms or institutions. The question is: Does it work?
The answer will depend on perspective. If the IRB results in a technology transfer that allows a Canadian company to
create a finished product in the future, most Canadians would see that as a complete success. If that IRB
results in employment for Canadian workers producing parts for foreign products, that would be seen as a success by
the UAW and Industry Canada. The intellectual labour of academics is harder to quantify.
As part of its C-17 offsets, Boeing has chosen to support Visual Analytics in Canada with a 5-year, $1.35M
cash-equivalent grant (in the form of software, Boeing data, and consulting) to be shared between SFU and UBC. What
is visual analytics? Basically it is about making sense out of highly complex patterns – that is, untangling
all the data.
[Google Analytics is a good example of making pictures out of a very large data base.]
With approval by Industry Canada as qualified IRB offsets, the Boeing contibution is eligible for matching funding
from NSERC ( Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada) under their Collaborative
Research and Development (CRD) grant program. Thus far, most NSERC grants for VA research in BC have been in the
tens or hundreds of thousands. That Boeing IRB is eligible for matching funds over a million.
So, a tidy sum for the folks at SFU's School of Interactive Arts + Technology who, no doubt, deserve the award
and will move visual analytics research along. This is said to "focus on four key sectors, including manufacturing,
finance, health and information communication technology". Sounds fascinating. But what,
if anything does it have to do with developing Canadian aerospace skills equivalent to those of Boeing
The text of a May 2008 SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations Press
( note: a 23 May 2008 Media Release with the text was issued by UBC Public Affairs ).
Boeing grant targets emerging visual analytics field
John Dill , 778.782.7555 , email@example.com , Brian Fisher, 778.782.7554 , firstname.lastname@example.org ,
Ron Rensink , 604.822.2579, email@example.com , Terry Lavender, PAMR, 778.782.7408
May 23, 2008
A $1.35 million grant from The Boeing Company will put Simon Fraser University and the University of British
Columbia in the forefront of the emerging field of visual analytics, leading to better ways for governments,
industry and academia to cope with an increasing flood of information.
The five-year grant will fund investigations by a team of researchers from both universities, led by SFU's
[Professor Emeritus] John Dill and [Associate Professor] Brian Fisher, and UBC’s [Associate Professor] Ron
The researchers will collaborate with the Chicago-based aerospace company to evalu- ate and improve ways to analyze
complex data on aircraft safety, reliability and main- tainability. The techniques they will develop can also help
decision makers in banking, health care, transportation and public safety to interpret the vast amounts of informa-
tion that they currently struggle to understand.
"The conventional approach for computing has been to build software that could process information and try to make
intelligent decisions automatically," says Dill, a professor at SFU's School of Interactive Arts and
"Instead, visual analytics uses computers to visually convey what the data is telling us, and puts decision making
back in the hands of humans." "By integrating the per- ceptual and cognitive sciences with visualization
technology, our applications can better support human understanding, problem-solving and collaboration" says
Rensink, principal investigator with UBC’s visual cognition lab.
Boeing's investment is an integral part of its C-17 Industrial Benefits (IB) Program. Under
this program, Boeing is required to match nearly $800 million invested by the Canadian government in acquiring four
C-17 [CC-177] strategic transport aircraft, by issuing contracts or making investments of equal value to Canadian
industry partners and institutions.
Boeing is the world's leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military
aircraft combined. The company designs and manufactures rotorcraft, electronic and defence systems, missiles,
satellites, launch vehicles and advanced information and communication systems.
Boeing is recognized by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada as one of the four pillars of
the Canadian aerospace industry.