IBM and Gogo Join to Help Pilots Avoid Turbulence

International Business Machines Inc. Thursday said it had struck a deal with in-flight wireless provider Gogo Inc. to alert airline pilots on the job to turbulence before they experience rough skies.

The service is one of Big Blue’s first moves to capitalize on its $2 billion acquisition of The Weather Company. IBM will automatically receive reports of turbulence from planes in flight, compare them with meteorological data to assess the severity of the threat, and send alerts to other planes in the area.

The Armonk, N.Y., technology giant likened the system’s operation to the way drivers use a popular navigation app owned by Alphabet Inc. to detect traffic jams and route around them.

“What Waze does for cars, we do for airlines,” said Cameron Clayton, CEO and general manager of The Weather Company, which became a division of IBM last October.

IBM said that each year, turbulence costs airlines approximately $100 million due to crew and passenger injuries, unscheduled maintenance, and revenue lost while planes are out of service. The new service could save some of that money by alerting pilots to turbulence ahead so they can avoid it.

IBM plans to launch the service in late summer. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

“When IBM acquired The Weather Company, we fully anticipated this deal was more about the data than about getting their hands on The Weather Company’s technology,” said Douglas Laney, an analyst with research firm Gartner Inc. “IBM has been plotting how to deploy or monetize that data in a variety of ways to help justify the investment,” he added.

But The Weather Company’s technology was also a factor in the acquisition, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company had built a platform that processes billions of data points daily to produce actionable information, Mr. Clayton said.

While the platform has been used mostly for weather data, it processes other kinds of data as well. It became a cornerstone of IBM’s Watson Internet of Things division, and it will manage the turbulence alerts on the ground.

Usually, pilots who experience turbulence report the incident to dispatchers on the ground, who evaluate the threat and set about alerting other pilots who might be affected. IBM and Gogo intend to automate the process.

Gogo, based in Chicago, Ill., will offer to outfit planes with a dedicated Internet connection that connect to servers on the ground. The system will pick up evidence of turbulence from sensors already on a plane and relay it to Watson Internet of Things computers, along with the plane’s location. The IBM system will combine the in-flight alerts with weather data such as wind speeds to evaluate the severity of potential turbulence.

If the risk is minor, it will pass the information along to planes in the area. If it senses a dangerous situation, it will send an alert to reroute around the hazardous conditions.

IBM is also trying to wring revenue from The Weather Company’s websites and mobile app. On June 2, it announced Watson Ads, which appear on The Weather Company properties. The ads let audience members ask questions about products through voice or text, and use the Watson artificial intelligence engine to answer them.

In February, Gogo signed a contract with global satellite operator SES SA. The in-flight internet provider had struggled to provide service on jetliners, and the contract provided a boost for the company’s in-flight internet service over the U.S., Latin America and the North Atlantic.


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