An LED readout on the windowsill tells developer Jeremy Merrill where passing airplanes are flying in from. (Photo: Jeremy Merrill)
We’ve all looked up and seen planes fly overhead. Maybe we’ve even stopped for a second to muse about where they’re coming from. But none of us then decided to create a piece of software that would determine the origin of the plane and display it on a device we hooked up to our windowsill. Then again, none of us is Jeremy Merrill.
The New York Times journalist and developer lives under the flight path to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, and when he got curious, he got nerdy. He built a program called Flyover, which, as Mashable explains, basically listens for information that passenger jets transmit over special radio systems — information that contains their location, altitude, registration number, and flight number.
Merrill’s app isn’t the only one to do this, tools such as Flight Aware and FlightRadar 24 use the same technology to track flights all over the world (and not just for avgeeks, but for commercial airlines and other companies whose businesses depend on this kind of data).
Merrill’s version is customized for his own curiosity, however: He added a filter to exclude planes that are flying higher than 10,000 feet — because if they’re that high, they’re not likely to be landing at his home airport LaGuardia. But for those that are making their descent, Flyover determines their origin airport and displays it on a little LED display on Merrill’s windowsill. Now, whenever he looks up and sees a plane flying overhead, he doesn’t have to do any musing — he just glances over and knows exactly where it came from.
This isn’t the only life hack Merrill has been inspired to build: He’s also created an app that tells him when the bus near his apartment is about to arrive, and one that sends him an email every morning with a subway recommendation based on how the trains are running.
Why go to all that trouble? As Merrill told Yahoo Travel, “I’ve always been a tinkerer and I love to explore hidden data that explains the world around me. This ‘Flyover’ project is a way that I can understand what’s going on above my head — in a way that takes only a glance.”
Follow Billie Cohen on Twitter and Instagram at @billietravels.