One of the major challenges faced when trying to analyze a realtime and continuous stream of data is how to structure and visualize it in a way that results in near-instantaneous understanding. There are methods of data visualization that can display particular aspects of a dataset, such as a chart or graph. The problem is that they are limited in terms of what kind of data can be visualized, as well as the speed someone is able to understand the data being represented.
One particular domain of data that has this problem is weather data. There's a huge amount of data being generated, and understanding it quickly is often of the utmost importance, especially for pilots.
We used Unity to create an augmented reality app to present realtime weather data in a form that can be instantaneously understood. This involved:
- Fetching and decoding realtime weather reports provided by all airports in the United States (METARs).
- Generating an AR environment that adapts to the current decoded report, displaying cloud levels, air pressure, wind speed and direction, and other elements.
- Creating an app to easily facilitate entering airports and visualizing their AR environments.
I worked on both designing and developing the app with Unity, primarily on the last two points above. This involved creating a simple UX that presents just the right amount of information to the app's users, as well as additional specificity when required. There are two main sections that needed to be considered: a 3D AR visualization and 2D UI.
The AR Visualization
For the augmented reality environment, it was important that just that data that was most often needed by pilots be presented. This meant focusing on how to visualize specific parts of the METAR report, like clouds and wind. The answer was to go with the most intuitive solution: what do these elements look like?
By building on people's pre-existing understanding of what weather looks like physically, we could create something that was instantaneously understandable without any additional training.
It was also important to consider how people would interact with the AR environment. After some testing, we were sure to provide obvious interaction methods such as panning, scaling and tapping.
The 2D UI
However, it was also clear that there are some aspects of the weather report where a visualization would not provide enough information. One example is pressure, as pilots use the pressure provided by a METAR to calibrate their altimeter. It would be important to include these values in addition to the visualization, to provide additional clarity when needed.
I designed and implemented a UI to present the fields from the METAR in their original numeric form, available with a swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
The Final Product
Our final iOS and Android app integrates a number of realtime data sources to create one simple visualization of the weather at any airport in the United States, to promote instantaneous interpretation of the current conditions.