What do Microsoft’s Bing, Apple’s Siri, and and the baddest flight search application on the planet have in common? They’re all in some capacity supported by Champaign, Illinois’ Wolfram Research via their answer-engine, Wolfram Alpha.
WolframAlpha is “an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine might” (Wikipedia). How this differs from a semantic engine, e.g. Google, can best be seen by example:
When I ask Google how old Francois Rabelais was when he died I’m returned this
Ask WolframAlpha the same thing and forget about looking through SERP’s for an answer
Any Siri user can easily see how this is such a useful support tool for the virtual virtuoso.
But WolframAlpha has been expanding its worldview beyond third party support and direct computational responses. Yesterday, WA rolled out “Flights Overhead,” a real time flight look up application that uses i.p. location or mobile location services to calculate at a given time what flights are in your relative airspace, where they’re going, and lots more. The announcement came on their blog, its introduction aimed at the creative wonder in all of us, “At one time or another, we’ve all looked at a jet flying high overhead and thought “I wonder where they’re headed?” Actually answering that question probably seemed impossible before—but if you’re a user in the United States, Wolfram|Alpha can now help you answer that question and many more interesting queries about commercial and other flights” (WolframAlpha).
To use the application type “flights overhead” into the text field
The results screen is so impressive it’s worth showing as much as I can
Using the website on a smartphone is even more fascinating just given the accuracy of GPS, and the site functions great on my iPhone. Here it is using the native Safari app, not the WolframAlpha mobile app
By selecting any of the flights you’re given all kinds of data including arrival time
The implications this type of technology and functionality present for research and other creative applications are only emerging. WolframAlpha’s flight look up technology will tell you about weather delays on a given day, perform currency and time conversions, contrast the departing location’s and arriving location’s cost of living…
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