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David Cooper/Toronto Star/Newscom

iPad navigators

Technology | FAA considers allowing airlines to use tablet computers in place of paper charts in the air

Issue: "2011 Books of the Year," July 2, 2011

Tablet computers-like the iPad and the Galaxy Tab-have been popping up everywhere: homes, boardroom meetings, even classrooms. The next destination? Airplane cockpits. Alaska Airlines recently moved to stop using traditional flight manuals, replacing the books with the iPad. Private airline Executive Jet has already replaced paper navigation charts by putting the same information on the device. And the Federal Aviation Administration-which hasn't revised its rules about "electronic flight bags and computing devices" since 2003 (years before even the iPhone was released)-is trying to keep up with the times: A draft proposal, recently circulated by the FAA for comment, would let pilots use the iPad as a primary source of information in the cockpit.

One of the FAA's key concerns is not surprising: Some fear that using these devices in the cockpit will lead to distracted pilots and put passengers in danger (for instance, two Northwest Airlines pilots recently overshot their destination because they were fiddling with a laptop). And device failure is a concern as well, so the FAA's proposal disallows use of the iPad below 10,000 feet and requires pilots to carry paper copies of charts as backup. But the iPad also allows pilots to carry extra information and manuals they might not typically carry without taking up more space or bringing extra weight on board. Through using the device, Alaska Airlines hopes to eventually eliminate more than 2.4 million pieces of paper from its daily operations.

Path finders

Vacationing in a big city this summer? While one of the advantages of urban life is the ability to get around without a car, navigating public transportation can be daunting and sometimes difficult. Google Maps (and mobile apps that use Google Maps, including the iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, and Android apps) provides not just driving directions, but also maps for walking and riding public transportation. Another useful site is Hopstop.com and its apps: Enter your start and end location (address, intersection, or landmark) and the time you'd like to leave, and it will provide maps to and from the transit location, as well as instructions for riding the train or bus. Hopstop's list of locations is expanding rapidly and includes dozens of major cities in the United States and Canada-from Raleigh/Durham to Boston to Vancouver-as well as London and Paris. Wondering how far you can travel in a limited amount of time? A new site called Mapnificent can help: Select your starting point and the time you'd like to travel, and the map shows the area which you can cover on public transportation.

Interpretive glance

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It sounds like something from a futuristic spy thriller: Imagine wearing glasses that automatically translate words on signs and in books into English. The spectacles aren't yet available, but a new app called Quest Visual is a step in that direction. The iPhone/iPad app instantly translates printed words using the device's video camera in real time. The user points his or her camera at the words to translate them, and no internet connection is required. There are only two language packs available at present (for $9.99)-English to Spanish and Spanish to English-and it's a word-for-word translation, so grammar can be shaky, but the app will certainly lead others to experiment with translation.

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