Home Hardware Motorola Xoom tablet includes barometer; will it lead to automatic flight mode and Google Weather?

Motorola Xoom tablet includes barometer; will it lead to automatic flight mode and Google Weather?

Baffling some less imaginative folks is news that the Motorola Xoom tablet will feature a barometer (reported earlier but the baffling is recent). This pressure measuring instrument is typically associated with weather detection, but there’s an application of the technology that could be more useful to some people: auto-switching to flight mode.

While a barometer is useful if you need to know if it will rain and are unable to connect to the Internet for a weather report (or look at the sky), it’s a bit outdated in our era of constant connectivity. However, one place you can’t be connected is in an aircraft taking off or touching down. All modern wireless devices have a “flight mode” that turns off the wireless for this situation, but wouldn’t it be nice if your device could switch to flight mode automatically? Well, with a barometer, it’s possible.

A barometer detecting cabin pressurization in conjunction with location-awareness could be used to determine whether the device is in an aircraft ready for or in flight that’s in or near an airport. The device could then switch to flight mode or pop up a warning that it should be. There’s one FAA rule you won’t worry about any more.

Long-term, another use I see for onboard barometers is weather data gathering. As more Android devices with barometers are deployed, the more data Google (or others) can collect (at user’s discretion) about weather patterns which can lead to more accurate weather predictions and analysis. It’s like the movie Twister where they released dozens of little sensors into a tornado (inspired by NOAA’s VORTEX projects), except over a much broader span of time and space. While this use has no immediate benefit for users, it could lead to more accurate and precise weather reports.

Those are two benefits I can imagine off the top of my head, immediate and long-term, for barometers in mobile devices, aside from traditional weather detection. Perhaps more enterprising individuals will think of more. How about you?

Via Gizmodo > Engadget > Phone Arena

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9 Comments

  1. quillaja

    01/10/2011 at 8:17 pm

    I’m baffled that people are so baffled by a barometer! The main reason it’s in there, without a doubt, is for accurate elevation data for GPS applications. Is this a “killer” feature? Hardly, but it’s useful.

    Reply

  2. Perry

    01/10/2011 at 9:34 pm

    Interesting! As a weather nut and a private pilot, I like the idea of a barometer in a tablet device, however I must point out that a barometer by itself cannot give you your altitude since atmospheric pressure varies with the weather as well as with altitude. That’s why altimeters in airplanes must be adjusted for current atmospheric pressures. Also, GPS, especially when coupled with WAAS (which most non-airplane devices do NOT have) can give you a better indication of altitude.

    Still, for weather purposes, it would be fun to have, but seems odd not to also have a thermometer if weather information is really its purpose. I admit, I like it, but I’m puzzled by it. You could potentially use it to activate airplane mode based on a decrease in pressure, however since all airliners are pressurized (generally to 5,000 – 8,000 feet), I would wonder how it would tell that a decrease in pressure is due to climbing altitude versus a change in the weather, or simply being in a high altitude location. Besides which, you’re generally required to activate airplane mode long before take-off and any actual change in altitude.

    Reply

    • Sumocat

      01/11/2011 at 1:38 pm

      “Besides which, you’re generally required to activate airplane mode long before take-off and any actual change in altitude.” — Right, but they pressurize the cabin on the ground right after they close the door. The cabin pressure is what the barometer would detect to activate flight mode before take off. For landings, the trigger would be pressure change. Both would be coupled with GPS/location-awareness to determine airport proximity.

      Reply

    • Sumocat

      01/11/2011 at 1:38 pm

      “Besides which, you’re generally required to activate airplane mode long before take-off and any actual change in altitude.” — Right, but they pressurize the cabin on the ground right after they close the door. The cabin pressure is what the barometer would detect to activate flight mode before take off. For landings, the trigger would be pressure change. Both would be coupled with GPS/location-awareness to determine airport proximity.

      Reply

      • Perry

        01/11/2011 at 3:03 pm

        “but they pressurize the cabin on the ground right after they close the door” — Actually, that’s not correct. The cabin is sealed when the door is closed, but there is an outflow valve at the back of the plane that is used to regulate the cabin pressure and it remains open fully until the plane is airborne. The reason for this is simple: On the ground, there is no need to stress the fuselage of the plane needlessly by pressurizing it beyond ground-level air pressure. In fact, pressurization is only needed above about 10,000 feet MSL. What actually happens is, as the plane climbs, the air pressure outside the plane decreases with altitude and inside the cabin it also decreases, but at a rate much slower than the pressure outside. Bleed air from the powerplants is cooled and mixed with cabin air and brought into the cabin. The outflow valve controls how much air leaves the cabin, thus maintaining the pressure inside. The end result is that, at an altitude of say, 30,000 feet, the pressure inside the cabin is closer to that of 9,000 feet.

        What this means is, a barometer inside the plane will not give an accurate indication of altitude except on the ground, and even then, only when corrected for the weather conditions of the day.

        Reply

        • Sumocat

          01/11/2011 at 4:06 pm

          That may be true for private planes, but commercial airliners are pressurized on the ground. Flying back from CES 2010, a little girl and her family had to de-plane after the door was closed and the cabin was pressurized due to increased pain from her ear infection. I’m sure it’s not fully pressurized, but it was enough to be felt.

          Reply

  3. WOC

    02/26/2011 at 8:54 am

    Motorola should check out what Apple 3G & Foreflight are doing. GPS situational awareness with tracking on sectional. Plus weather, airport info, etc. It doesn’t turn off it turns on a pilot tool!

    Reply

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