Real-time Data Streams

By Hal Reid

Data in real-time always catches your attention because it is the here and now ... live and hot-linked to the source, and not statically representing what happened in the past.

In this issue of Directions on Data, we have several examples of real-time data streams that range from telemetry to live, geo-referenced video. I have provided some here, but be sure to look at the article (below) from the University of Missouri's Center for Geospatial Intelligence, where they are working on real-time video geo-registration from multiple simultaneous feeds.

At first, the ideas of streaming data and telemetry can appear very complex and technical, but if you start with a simple telemetry example, adding live data is not overwhelming.

(Click for larger image)

In the graphic above, the valve is either open or closed. When the valve is closed a connection is completed. Looking at the meter, the position of the valve is obvious. More complex real-time feeds are just combinations of this binary example of the valve being open or closed; they simply have the ability to feed and display data incrementally from more sources.

NOAA's Doppler radar feed. (Click for larger image)

Now that you are an expert on data streaming, here are some links that are fun to check out.

NOAA has a feed that is fun to watch (shown at right), showing Doppler radar reflections across the USA.

Wondering why the Internet is slow? Look at the Internet Traffic Report, and take a look at the graphic below (look long enough and you'll notice it updates itself).
Internet Performance
The Internet Traffic Report monitors the flow of data around the world. It then displays a value between zero and 100. Higher values indicate faster and more reliable connections.

Real-time data is not limited to imagery; it can also be multi-media. The BBC has a real-time audio news feed, just in case you would like to have a British perspective.

For really far out data, investigate the telemetry feed from the Mars Rovers received by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Perhaps one of the most compelling examples of real-time data is the flight control data stream and ground track progress from the AC Propulsion solar powered unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These images are produced from 23 channels of telemetry, live video, and GPS data displayed in two graphics, both updated in real-time. This allows the controller of the UAV to fly the aircraft, understand its position, and see what data is being captured.

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The image on the left shows the flight instruments, altitude, airspeed, condition of the battery, solar panels, etc. The image on the right shows the ground track over an image of the flight areas, the heading "“ actual heading and ground track on a meter and the navigational waypoints on the image. Used by permission from AC Propulsion. (Click either one for larger image)

Notice that the display from the AC Propulsion solar UAV is not that different from a traditional business intelligence software dashboard. Both display continually refreshed data. In a business, this display may referenceproduction numbers. With the UAV, the display may refer to propeller revolutions per minute or rate of battery charge/discharge.

Of course, you can watch your stocks at the New York Stock Exchange or at MarkeTrac, an even cooler more graphical display that slices information from the 30 stocks of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (if your browser supports it).

The point is that we are expecting more and more access to data in real-time. Old, static, is out. Up-to-date, dynamic, is in. Here at Directions on Data, we are bringing you some of the most interesting ways to see and understand data. Remember that data by itself is just information. Knowledge comes from understanding that information. But, knowledge alone is not enough. As the Rev. Jamie Hooper said, "Wisdom is the correct application of knowledge."

Published Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

Written by Hal Reid

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