Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

First Advisor

Travis Desell


The identification of atypical events and anomalies in complex data systems is

an essential yet challenging task. The dynamic nature of these systems produces huge volumes of data that is often heterogeneous, and the failure to account for this will impede the detection of anomalies. Time series data encompass these issues and its high dimensional nature intensifies these challenges.

This research presents a framework for the identification of anomalies in temporal data. A comparative analysis of Centroid, Density and Neural Network-based clustering techniques was performed and their scalability was assessed. This facilitated the development of a new algorithm called the Variational Autoencoder Feature Map (VAEFM) which is an ensemble method that is based on Kohonen’s Self-Organizing Maps (SOM) and Variational Autoencoders. The VAEFM is an unsupervised learning algorithm that models the distribution of temporal data without making a priori assumptions. It incorporates principles of novelty detection to enhance the representational capacity of SOMs neurons, which improves their ability to generalize with novel data.

The VAEFM technique was demonstrated on a dataset of accumulated aircraft sensor recordings, to detect atypical events that transpired in the approach phase of flight. This is a proactive means of accident prevention and is therefore advantageous to the Aviation industry. Furthermore, accumulated aircraft data presents big data challenges, which requires scalable analytical solutions.

The results indicated that VAEFM successfully identified temporal dependencies in the flight data and produced several clusters and outliers. It analyzed over 2500 flights in under 5 minutes and identified 12 clusters, two of which contained stabilized approaches. The remaining comprised of aborted approaches, excessively high/fast descent patterns and other contributory factors for unstabilized approaches. Outliers were detected which revealed oscillations in aircraft trajectories; some of which would have a lower detection rate using traditional flight safety analytical techniques. The results further indicated that VAEFM facilitates large-scale analysis and its scaling efficiency was demonstrated on a High Performance Computing System, by using an increased number of processors, where it achieved an average speedup of 70%.