Ask Hackaday: How Would You Build This Flight Tracker For Kids?

You’ve got to hand it to marketers – they really know how to make you want something. All it takes is a little parental guilt, a bit of technical magic, and bam, you’re locked into a product you never knew you needed.

This prototype flight tracking nightlight for kids is a great example. Currently under development by Canadian airline WestJet, the idea is to provide a way for traveling parents to let kids know how long it is until Mommy or Daddy gets home from their trip. The prototype shows a stylized jet airliner with Neopixel lighting in the base. A pair of projectors in the wings shine an animated flight path on the child’s darkened bedroom ceiling, showing them when the wayward parent will return. Get past the schmaltz in the video below, and perhaps get over your jealousy of parents with kids who still eagerly await their return, and it’s actually a pretty good idea.

Now for the ask: how would you go about building something like this? And more importantly, how would you make it work for any plane, train, or automobile trip, and not just a WestJet flight? A look at the “How it will work” section of the page shows several photos of the prototype, which suggests the hardware end is dead easy. A Raspberry Pi Zero W features prominently, and the projectors appear to be TI’s DLP2000EVM, which we’ve featured before, mounted to a riser card. The Neopixels, a 3D-printed case, and the superfluous flashlight fuselage would be pretty easy, too.

On the software side, a generic version that tracks flight from any airline would need an interface for the traveler to define a flight, and something to check an API like FlightAware’s, or similar ones for whatever mode of transportation you’re using.

Seems like a pretty straightforward project. WestJet claims they’ll have their Flight Light ready sometime this summer; think we can beat them to it?

Thanks to [Philippe] for the tip.

19 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: How Would You Build This Flight Tracker For Kids?

  1. One problem, how long the flight takes to arrive vs how long it’ll take you to get from the airport home – Cue hundreds of kids seeing their parents have ‘landed’ and the panicing for the intervening hours while they await for them to get home.

    Now, if you could integrate with the google maps API to figure out where someone is via location sharing, and then use the eta from that, you could combine the two into something really cool.

    1. That hits close to home. Just yesterday, I picked up my spouse and kids at the airport. I was at the airport when they landed, and I was able to speak to them shortly thereafter by cell phone while I watched their plane taxiing.

      I was finally able to see them when they emerged from customs and immigration over two hours later.

      There was a 40 minute wait just to find an open gate to allow passengers to deplane, and a long delay getting through the line to see a CBP agent. It would have been longer if they had had to go through the noncitizen line, or if there had been any difficulties during the inspection process.

      1. It’s understandable, it’s absolutely not possible for airports to know in advance when a plane is going to come. It’s really a stroke of luck that there happened to be a runway under the plane’s wheels when it touched the ground.

  2. Forget the gimmicky self-tracking ETA. This would be really cool if it took the data from the FlightAware live map and just projected all flight paths that were above your house onto the ceiling. Maybe add constellations on there, too.

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