Mashups & Airport Delays

Mashups & Airport Delays

| 1/31/2013 1:00:00 PM

There’s a secret command center hidden beneath the Cinderella Castle in Disney World, where Disney technicians use video feeds, digital maps of the park and computer programs to monitor the 30 million guests who visit the mega-resort every year. They’re not trying to find out who you are. They only want to know where you are. Are things getting too crowded in Frontierland? Why then, route a miniparade into Adventureland and draw visitors in that direction. Is the line at Space Mountain getting too long? Send Tinkerbell or Goofy over to entertain the folks while they wait. Is the park going to be understaffed when it gets a surge of business at Spring Break? Not a chance – Disney analyzes hotel reservations, flight bookings, historic attendance data and the daily weather to make sure that they’ll always know what to expect.

I don’t want to get myself on the TSA’s naughty list, but I can’t help noticing that Disney could teach our airports a thing or two. I have to fly a lot, and when I do I’m forced to apply a personal 3-sigma rule: Always leave home at least three hours before the flight. Will the shuttle bus for Remote Parking show up in three minutes or 30? How long will it take to check in this time? How long will it take to get through security today? Sometimes I find myself strolling up to the boarding gate with an hour to spare. Sometimes – after waiting in all of the unpredictable lines -- I’m making a mad dash across the airport with my shoes in my hand and wondering if I’ll make my flight at all.

If Disney can figure it out, surely the airports could learn to do it, too. They already know how many airline tickets have been sold. They already know when the flights are – theoretically -- scheduled to depart. If they’d just mash that together with a bit more data, navigating your way through an airport wouldn’t have to be such an obnoxious experience.

The airports will surely be the last to notice, but we’ve entered an era in which we’re able to mash data together from previously unthinkable sources and make meaningful decisions about the world around us. Google Traffic, for example, mashes maps, feeds from traffic agencies and real time feedback from travelers using Google Maps. They are then able to provide real time traffic information. Data mashing makes it possible to tap human behavior-based data as an input, organize the data, and to then push information out to “networked” humans. The information can be used to reroute traffic, reduce congestion and induce behavioral change, rather like sending out that parade to lead people into Adventureland.

As it becomes possible to collect more and more kinds of data, and in higher volumes, the engineers who are able to create innovative mashups of disparate data are going to be the next engineering supergeeks. I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject myself, but I do get to meet some of these guys. (I’ve even met one of the Disney experts.) They call me when they need to collect data from remote locations, strange devices or nasty environments. Traditional IT teams would scurry off to their climate controlled server rooms when the going got tough, but remote locations, strange devices and nasty environments are B&B’s specialty. So while I don’t always know what the data mashing supergeeks will do with their data, I do get to help them collect it.

Data mashing is redefining what we used to blandly call machine to machine, or “M2M” communications. With the right hardware and expertise it has become possible to collect data just about anywhere. B&B’s new line of Spectre cellular routers, for example, leverage the huge wireless telephone network to provide data connections and Ethernet infrastructure for remote devices in locations that were once considered inaccessible due to geography or expense. Additional ways to expand the network edge include reverse engineering protocols and connectivity standards on proprietary equipment, and overcoming limitations like the “100 meter Ethernet challenge” with Ethernet extenders or media conversion. (Also B&B specialties.) As more data is collected, and as the supergeeks find more ways to organize it, new applications will emerge for virtually every industry.

Have you stumbled across any innovative mashup applications? Talk back (link to blog) – I’d love to hear about them!

And if I’m ever stuck in a line at the airport, and they send someone to entertain us, Goofy or Tinkerbell would be better than nothing. But -- given the choice -- I think I’d rather meet Captain Jack Sparrow.

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