Sunday, 11 May 2014

Announcing Really Simple Moving Map

Over the past few months with my aircraft grounded (during it's C-of-A renewal, now done, thankfully !) and with the weather basically rubbish (around the UK) , I took the opportunity to explore the world of HTML5 cross-platform web-app programming.

As a "test app", I chose to put  together a "moving map", inspired by my interest in aviation and navigation, but also because the available mapping & navigation apps on Android, iOS etc never quite seemed to do what I want.

The first step was to select a mapping technology. One thing that became apparent early in the development was that I couldn't use GoogleMaps for this: the licensing from Google forbids the use of the GoogleMaps API for "real time" navigation applications. This was initially disappointing because I'd built up a fair working knowledge of the GoogleMaps API (as used in iNavCalc). However, in the end I'm grateful for the forced change: it led me to discover OpenStreetMap and leaflet.js , two open-source resources which are a delight to work with, and, moreover,  have none of the licensing restrictions of GoogleMaps.

I should emphasise that my goal was not to substitute my assorted "real" navigation devices with this "toy" web app. The limitations of web-technology preclude the use of such a web app for serious navigation -- not least since much of navigation takes place where there is no internet connection. Web apps -- by definition -- require a more or less continuous internet connection to function in their full glory, this one no exception.

That said, as I've been putting the app together and "field testing" it, I've been surprised how well it works in unlikely places e.g., hiking in the local hills (on the Isle of Man), skiing in Norway, sitting on airliners etc.. Of course, on the airliners, it only works until the 3G/4G/WiFi signal falls away, typically a few hundred feet into the air. I've also tried the app using the on-board WiFi signal that many airlines now offer. No joy -- not surprising, really, since the location services require triangulation i.e., more than one transmitter, and so the single WiFi hotspot on-board doesn't suffice.

On the subject of flying, I've not yet tried my new app "in the cockpit", so to speak. But now that I've got my C-of-A renewed, and the sun is shining, I'll give it a go. Of course the web-specific features won't work (since there's no reliable internet connection aloft), but with a bluetooth GPS receiver paired with my Android phone, the core location services of the app should be operable. I'll  post my observations later...

In any case, I don't expect -- nor ever intended --  this web app to be particularly useful in the cockpit in-flight, given the obvious technical limitations. However, the app does have various features designed to be very useful for flight planning when on the ground. For example, automated METAR and TAF briefings "nearest" to your current location (or anywhere else, by clicking on the map). It also has full Google geosearch capabilities -- so you can find and navigate to your hotel once you've landed!

In the meantime, you can try the app for yourself. It is available here, with a Users' Guide here. Certain features require registration. If you already have a FlyLogical account, that will work across all apps including this one. If not, you can create one for free, here.

Hope you find it fun, and maybe even useful ! Feedback always welcome via the Comments section below.