Wiping Up the Harmful Streak

Human beings are known for many different things, but most importantly, they are known for getting better on a consistent basis. This tendency to improve, no matter the situation, has brought the world some huge milestones, with technology emerging as quite a major member of the group. The reason why we hold technology in such a high regard is, by and large, predicated upon its skill-set, which guided us towards a reality that nobody could have ever imagined otherwise. Nevertheless, if we look beyond the surface for a second, it will become clear how the whole runner was also very much inspired from the way we applied those skills across a real world environment. The latter component, in fact, did a lot to give the creation a spectrum-wide presence, and as a result, initiate a full-blown tech revolution. Of course, this revolution eventually went on to scale up the human experience through some outright unique avenues, but even after achieving a feat so notable, technology will somehow continue to bring forth the right goods. The same has turned more and more evident in recent times, and assuming one new discovery ends up with the desired impact, it will only put that trend on a higher pedestal moving forward.

Google has officially collaborated with American Airlines and Bill Gates’ climate investment fund, Breakthrough Energy, to chart more sustainable flight routes. According to certain reports, the idea here is to help pilots avoid routes that will more likely create contrails, white streaks in the sky that planes sometimes leave behind. Before we get into how the partners will deliver on their promised value proposition, we must gauge the enormity of this problem. You see, contrails are an issue because they can trap heat, thus accounting for about 35 percent of aviation industry’s global warming impact. Now, onto the solution, the partners have leveraged the power of satellite imagery and AI to create comprehensive forecast maps which are meant to inform you on locations where the contrail-forming conditions are relatively more pervasive. For instance, as humidity is the biggest factor birthing these stated white streaks, the brand new maps will attempt to detect areas with high humidity levels. Mind you, the assessment won’t just be wholly about the route, but it will also take into account other metrics like altitude. This means the pilot won’t always have to abandon an area altogether. Instead, they can just adjust the plane’s height and it will do the job. Talk about how the organizations developed their forecast maps; they started out by digging into tens of thousands of satellite images to spot and label contrails. Next up, they used the discovered data to train a computer vision model in terms of detecting contrails in satellite imagery. The involved researchers then complemented that information through an extra bit of weather and flight data to give the forecasts greater accuracy.

“It’s just like a big map that’s saying, ‘Look, planes flying at this altitude will make a contrail. So let’s not fly any planes through there,” said Scott Geraedts, software engineer at Google.

Once developed, it was American Airlines who stepped in to oversee the testing phase. The aviation giant tried out the technology with 70 test flights stretching over six months.

“It was very easy, very intuitive. We already change altitudes pretty often to avoid turbulence, so this is completely similar,” said Deborah Hecker, a director of flight operations at American Airlines,

The researchers also compared satellite imagery of those test flights to others where pilots didn’t try to avoid contrails. Going by the available details, they found that the forecast map-led test flights were able to cut down contrails by a whopping 54 percent. Although the flights did burn 2% more fuel in a bid to avoid high risk areas, the final cost come out $5 to $25 for a climate benefit equivalent to avoiding a ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

As for what’s next, the technology is now set to be peer-reviewed, and while that happens, the companies will try and learn more about its scalability potential.

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