Control systems are being installed in many venues with graphical interfaces to provide realtime monitoring and control, but with systems today having 20, 30, or even more devices to handle from a single location, the amount of information can become overwhelming. So here are some ideas on how to use Context Aware Monitoring and Control (CAMC, pronounced CAM-SEE) to provide a more useful interface for your client, based on the current state of your control system.

Group Events
Make it easier for staff members to see the overall state of the system and access more detailed information with the press of a button. For example, if a projector on the second floor of a building responds with an error, use a “Home Page” to show that an event has occurred on that floor with a graphical indicator. Then, provide a “Go to Event” button to display more detailed status information about the most recent event. Include, for example, in which room the projector is located, whether the room is in use, and if the projector requires immediate attention. This approach provides fast access to the most recent event while providing a clean and easy to use interface.

Automate Event Tracking
Whether working out the timings for some new media or performing routine maintenance, it can be helpful to make the monitoring and control interface change automatically. The interface should display the most important information for the current scene without having to search through multiple pages of controls.

Consider a 30-minute theatre presentation that includes audio, video, and lighting effects over multiple scenes. Each scene only uses a subset of the total equipment installed in the theatre: Scene 1 uses two audio channels, Scene 2 plays a single channel of video that can be paused for audience interaction, etc. The graphical interface to this theatre’s control system would be overwhelming if all of the equipment were on one page. Even if the controls were separated into multiple pages, it could take time to drill down to the desired level, not to mention training. A CAMC approach automatically displays only the equipment relevant to the current scene. As the control system progresses through each scene, the interface changes to provide the information and controls necessary for the presentation. This makes it easy to check audio status in Scene 1 and then pause or resume the video in Scene 2.

Restrict System Access
There may be times when the control system should not be touched. For example, when the system is in night-mode, and there are no guests in the building. There may be maintenance or security staff that do not require the control system to be active, but must work around its components as a part of their nightly routine. To prevent accidental changes to the system, force the touchscreen interface to require an unlock code for access. This still allows a single point of access while locking out control from other locations. The result protects system components from unauthorized use and can even help save money by lowering usage time of consumables like projector lamps.

Context Aware Monitoring and Control will help build a more robust and easy-to-use interface to the control system. It will also provide a means to access information in greater detail, and faster, than from a static system. With control systems growing in size and complexity every day, it is important to incorporate these features into your design, and your customers will thank you.

Adam Rosenberg is a software engineer with Alcorn McBride Inc. Specializing in user interface design, networking, and control protocols, he designed and developed ShowTouch, a graphical user interface for control systems. He has more than 12 years of experience in customer support and works directly with customers to create the best tools for an application. He also has a passion for all aspects of theatre and digital art, which he incorporates into his life at home and at work.