Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Visualizing Flight...

...long ago, at the dawn of the human flight - ok, not really - I worked at an FAA laboratory slaving away over algorithms and processes to detect hazardous weather around airports and report that information to the tower. When the project went to production (it was handed off to Raytheon under the brandings of TDRW and ITWS), I scrambled onto a different project at the same lab: tracking oceanic air travel and looking for ways to increase efficiency, and reporting those efficiencies to oceanic air controllers.

Part of that process involved collecting information from all flights from US to Europe and back again. The resultant data was mapped onto graphics systems, and the patterns were played back and tracked after each day's data collection. The results were eerie and beautiful - air travel from the US to Europe took place in the evenings, the flights back were in the mornings. The resultant patterns of information looked like migratory routes that birds would take... we'd watch them for quite a while, sometimes transfixed.

We also wondered what the patterns for air travel all over the world would look like - but, of course, this was over a decade ago: data collection was slow and cumbersome, and the horsepower required to track and compute the paths of flights all over the world and display them just wasn't there.

Well...that was then, this is now. Check out these results from Scott Hessels and Gabriel Dunne - Hessels and Dunne work on the Celestrial Mechanics project for the FAA. There are a lot of great visualizations these guys are doing with real FAA data, but surely the most awe-inspiring (and the one that takes me back 10 years to those giant SGI Onyx monsters at the FAA) was the plotting of traffic patterns over the US in a single day animated by Aaron Koblin... so, click the pretty picture and enjoy this, its worth the watch.

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