From trucks to tykes, digital video measurement now easier

March 13, 2002

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 13, 2002 - Construction truck drivers and infants now have something in common, thanks to a new software program designed to measure the time cycles of events. Jason Lockhart, director of the Multimedia Center at Virginia Tech, developed the computer software called the Digital Video Analysis Tool (DVAT). It measures the time cycles of any kind of event that has been digitally videotaped, such as a truck driver's productivity or the time a child needs to complete an activity.

Lockhart initially designed the software for Professor Mike Vorster's construction engineering classes at Virginia Tech. With digital video becoming more predominant than the older analog video, students needed a way to measure the cycle of activity of construction trucks that they had digitally recorded. Software previously used for studying analog videotaped behavior, PAVIC, had been designed for use by Scandanavian Airlines to study on-flight service. DVAT is a similar type of software, but adjusted for digital video.

Lockhart's new software allows the researcher to hit a keystroke to record the time of any specified activity while viewing the digital video on a computer screen. The time of each activity being studied on the video is recorded and then the data can be imported directly to the commonly used Excel software for further study. Any number of activities can be examined, with each being assigned an individual keystroke. DVAT identifies event times and cycle times much better than the older technology.

Currently, Vorster's students are filming the construction of the Virginia Tech football stadium addition and studying the construction activity cycles.

Vorster had the opportunity to share this new software with a research partner, American Infrastructure, a construction firm located in Philadelphia. The company wanted to improve its ability to analyze the activity of its construction trucks so DVAT readily met the company's needs.

The use of the same software to study babies at the Infant Perception Laboratory at Virginia Tech is also showing promising results. Robin Cooper, director of the lab and an associate professor in psychology, is currently working with Lockhart on two research projects studying the behavior of fathers with infants.

Cooper's research group is studying father recognition during the first year of a baby's life. As part of this study, video is taken of fathers talking to their babies; afterwards the babies are shown the video to determine how they react to the video stimulus. The babies are actually videotaped a second time while they watch the video. Their reactions are recorded and analyzed using DVAT.

Just about anything a baby does is studied in Cooper's lab: preferences for auditory events; perceptions of infant directed speech; influences of pitch and rate of speech on attention and arousal; recognition of voices and faces of mothers and fathers; and interactions between mothers and their premature infants, especially as they pertain to maternal speech. Cooper says she and her researchers are just beginning to discover all the ways DVAT can be used to study behavior.

Another addition to Cooper's video platform for infant research, which Lockhart has helped design, is studying cardiac response of infants to different speech patterns. Researchers film infants as they are in a situation when they look at a monitor. The visual behavior of the baby is recorded using DVAT -- where they look, how long, and how long they do not look, along with the cardiac response from a monitor. The computer screen is divided so that the researcher can click as to where infant is looking so there is on-line and off-line coding going on at same time.

Cooper's plan is to streamline the data gathering process in the Infant Perception Laboratory by having the digital video go straight into the computer, with Lockhart's assistance. "We could not have done the past five projects in our lab without Jason's help. He took it from an old-fashioned lab full of cables to an almost wireless working environment."

There are four tools built into DVAT for timing and studying behavior: an index event that records a certain time of an event; a toggle that records the start and end time of an event; the activity, indicating the overall time of the entire process; and the consecutive task that studies the time of an activity when one task follows immediately after another. These tools allow for many applications for the use of DVAT.

Lockhart's goal is to make this software developed at Virginia Tech a free or reasonably priced tool like shareware so it can be used by other universities and laboratories to the fullest extent possible. He plans to help distribute this program to other universities for teaching purposes. He will continue for a few more months to make revisions and add features to the DVAT software before distributing it.
Researchers mentioned
Michael Vorster, civil engineering professor, 540-231-5009 email:
Robin P. Cooper, psychology professor, 540-231-5938

PR CONTACT: Karen Gilbert (540)231-4787

Virginia Tech

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