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Siri / Wolfram Alpha trick lets you know what is flying overhead

Steve Sande, @stevensande
November 26, 2011
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I'm a bit of an airliner freak, so I love looking up at the contrails of jets flying overhead and wondering where a plane might be going. I recently found out that Wolfram Alpha has the ability to tell you what airplanes are cruising around above you based on your position and its knowledge of where various airline and charter flights are located at any point in time. Since Siri has the built-in ability to work with Wolfram Alpha, I thought I'd see if I could just ask Siri to tell me about those flights overhead.

It took a few tries and some thought about what to ask Siri, but I finally got it to work. Telling Siri to "Ask Wolfram what flights are overhead" produces the correct results. That query displays a Wolfram Alpha printout showing the flight or aircraft registration number of flights that are currently visible from where you're standing, their altitude, and the angle above the horizon. You also get information on what type of aircraft each is, how far away it is, and what direction to look, as well as a sky map showing where the planes are.

Gallery: Siri and Wolfram Alpha: What planes are flying overhead? | 3 Photos

I then made an attempt to coax details out of Siri about individual flights. I thought I'd need to use the brains of Wolfram Alpha again, but found that by simply saying "Tell me about [name of airline] Flight [flight number]" prompted Siri to display a web page showing the departure airport and time of the flight along with the expected arrival airport, time and gate.

The search isn't perfect. I often had flights between the West coast and Asia showing up on the search despite the fact that there was no way that the flights were going to be flying over Colorado. But as with many of the tricks we've demonstrated here at TUAW, this shows the surprising depth of knowledge that you have access to by asking Siri.

TUAW editor Steve Sande is the co-author and publisher of "Talking to Siri: Learning the Language of Apple's Intelligent Assistant," found on the iBookstore and Amazon Kindle Bookstore.

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