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Predicting the Future (Weather) with ML at NABLA Mobility

Igor talks about joining NABLA Mobility, the variety of work that goes into predicting weather patterns, and how their software is helping pilots fly more efficient, less turbulent routes.

Photo of Igor Segrovets
Igor Segrovets

Originally from New Zealand, Igor joined NABLA Mobility as a software engineer after completing a Master’s degree where he specialized in the simulation and analysis of weather phenomena. He said, “Japan has a very big private aerospace sector relative to New Zealand, and I felt like there’s just so much interesting stuff going on. I was introduced to NABLA Mobility through my laboratory. It seemed aligned with the research I was doing before. I was really excited to get stuck in, so here I am now.”

NABLA Mobility is a young startup that aims to improve efficiency and safety within the aviation industry through various software solutions that assist in decision-making for operations and pilots. Igor said, “We take weather prediction and do stuff that isn’t yet very common in the industry, to derive where there is turbulence or other things that impede aircraft optimization goals. I think we’re one of the few companies in the space that’s actually doing a prediction based on data, rather than just reporting what was there. In this slow moving industry, NABLA can fill in a lot of the cracks and get things moving in the right direction.”

We have a software product with algorithms that augment the flight planning software, for pilots and dispatchers to see where there are high risk zones in the flight trajectory and choose a best-suited flight path options based on weather and optimizations. Like Google Maps, but for planes.

Before joining NABLA Mobility, Igor was doing scientific computing in an academic environment, and he finds there are similarities between his former and current work. He said, “You’ll be writing production code, but you’ll also be fiddling in a notebook trying to get something to work. You’ll also be doing data analysis and reading research papers. It kind of feels like doing a master’s degree of work every few months, minus the reporting, the presentations and the thesis writing.”

Igor works on the team that helps produce the optimization algorithms that are the brains of the software, while other engineers work on the client-facing side. Igor said “I work on the weather and turbulence prediction algorithms, specifically on the capabilities related to predicting clear air turbulence – things that we can’t see with our eyes. There’s more than just wind involved in creating turbulence. We look at all different kinds of physics that are occurring in the air, and use some modeling to predict where there’s a high risk of turbulence events.”

I’m super stoked that I get to do this kind of research and development work. It’s pretty cool stuff because it’s quite challenging, but also very rewarding when we get it right.

NABLA Mobility is still small, with around 11 full time staff and a number of part time advisors. Igor has been impressed by how quickly they move and adapt to client and market needs. He said, “Coming from academia, I wasn’t aware how it happens but it’s much quicker than I would have expected. Basically we’ll have some client say, oh, it would be nice to predict the trajectory of other aircraft. Then we ideate, we find some data source and start building models to be able to predict that behavior.”

To iteratively develop their product, NABLA Mobility gathers information from their clients, pilots and dispatchers who are using the software to plan routes, and also from the planes that fly those routes. Igor said, “We engage with industry all over the world. A big part of testing the usefulness of what our algorithms are predicting is actually letting airlines try it and then watching their feedback and seeing how they use our product. In terms of predictions being fundamentally accurate, that’s just a margin of error that we can’t escape. Even the weather prediction on your phone gets it wrong a lot of the time.”

We do get to sit in with pilots every now and then and see how they use our product. That’s pretty cool.

NABLA Mobility also welcomes suggestions from the team, with anyone able to pitch or mock up a feature idea they feel aligns with the company’s vision. Igor said, “With the product facing team, we saw there was a potential to create a 4D visualization. Presently, pilots were using a table on a printout to tell them their flight route. A very talented member of our team scraped together a 4D visualization that was a big hit, it’s like a 3D box with the flight path in the middle, and then we added the weather at each time point. I think it’s super cool.”

People are respected and given the opportunity to just show their best selves.

Igor really appreciates how NABLA Mobility makes him feel valued as a person, and the support he receives from his team. He said, “The company is very result oriented, but this manifests through putting people first, and paradoxically this is working a lot better than the alternative. The company systems are set up to empower people putting their best side forward as much as possible, not have extra bureaucracy or rules restricting innovation. As long as everything’s communicated with the team and they know what to expect from you, most things are okay. I think that’s really good.”

Igor’s background in aerospace helped him join NABLA Mobility, but they’re open to hiring engineers from different backgrounds. He said, “I know that a lot of people transition from basically any industry, given appropriate experience. There are particularities about aviation, but most skills are transferable. If you’re passionate and curious, I think it’s definitely the place for you. It’s a really good home for people that love a good problem to solve.”

Being a startup, each role makes a clear impact on our goals and that’s super motivating for me. The job interest and just the overall goodness of the work environment keeps me really engaged in our work.

The aviation industry’s requirements are constantly changing, with both climate change and pressures for decarbonization influencing their needs. Igor sees a lot of room for growth for NABLA Mobility, in both the services they can offer and future clients they can reach. He said, “We’re positioning ourselves to be here with the capability and the ideas to address the needs as they come. There’s going to be a big transition point with decarbonization in aerospace. I foresee that there’s, for example, room to improve maintenance scheduling or logistics related to refueling. There’s things like weight optimization, a lot of areas where tech still has an opportunity to play a role and streamline operations.”

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