This blog is about technology, software and social media. It's aimed as much towards 'normal' people as the tech savvy. The author is Tony Gallacher.
Planning a Spring break abroad? Got kids? You’ll be looking for ways to entertain them on the way then. Even if you’re not travelling with children, these flight and ship tracking sites and apps might pass some time.
If you click on a plane, like this BA flight to Chicago, the site tags it with its flight number. A panel pops up on the left to show arrival and departure points, aircraft type, location, altitude, heading and speed. You can click through to pictures of the plane (not just a generic image of that model of aircraft but the actual one you’re looking at on the map).
Both Flightradar24 and Planefinder have free and ‘pro’ iPhone, Android and iPad apps. Planefinder also has a Windows 7 app.
This might be something that will occupy the kids for a bit at the airport, if you have a laptop or a tablet and you can get internet access. If you’re using a tablet, I’d still recommend the web version of Flightradar24. It shows more information than the free tablet app.
There are AR (Augmented Reality) versions of the apps: you point your phone or tablet’s camera at an aircraft and its information is displayed on screen but they’re not getting good user reviews.
People have also used these tracking services to see if traffic is returning to normal, after events like the disruption caused by ash from the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, in 2010.
Pinkfroot, who make Planefinder, also have a site called shipfinder.co. Similar to the aircraft tracking websites, it shows real time positions of vessels including, passenger liners, fishing boats, cargo vessels and tankers.
You can see what flag a ship is sailing under as well as its heading, course and speed. The Grand Mistral, in this screenshot, is from Portugal. All vessels are helpfully colour coded: liners are blue, cargo boats are yellow and fishing boats are green, for example.
If you have a friend or family member travelling or working on a vessel off shore, it’s a good way to see their location, while they are away.
Again there are corresponding apps but only for iPhone and iPad.
Plane and ship tracking websites rely on the vessel or aircraft to broadcast its own location, using an onboard transponder. While 70% of European planes are equipped, only 30% in the US have one, at the moment. By 2020, all US passenger aircraft will have them fitted. This will give air traffic control more accurate information. It will also be better for the environment because it will reduce both fuel consumption and flight time waiting for clearance.
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