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Tech question on Malaysian flight MH370

 
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Hey Guys,
I appreciate this is not java related, but the recent disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370, and similar air disasters, and disappearances, which result in hefty costs, lengthy searches, and investigations, have left me pondering about something.
Is there not a possibility of streaming live black box data (voice + flight data) on the cloud, in such a way that whenever such tragic events occur, there is readily available data to analyse and investigate?
Don't we have enough technologies and scientific research to enable this?
How much data per flight would that mean ?
What are the limitations?
Are there any security concerns?
Does the frequency at which these disasters occur outweigh the need of such technology?
How costly would that be - say per flight? Not long ago, I watched a video online where James Gosling was explaining how streaming data into the cloud from a robot in the sea, is something like a $1 per kilobyte in their liquid robotic project...
It would be interesting to know your thoughts on the subject...

Thank you,
 
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ujjwal soni wrote:Hey Guys,
I appreciate this is not java related, but the recent disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370, and similar air disasters, and disappearances, which result in hefty costs, lengthy searches, and investigations, have left me pondering about something.
Is there not a possibility of streaming live black box data (voice + flight data) on the cloud, in such a way that whenever such tragic events occur, there is readily available data to analyse and investigate?
Don't we have enough technologies and scientific research to enable this?
How much data per flight would that mean ?
What are the limitations?
Are there any security concerns?
Does the frequency at which these disasters occur outweigh the need of such technology?
How costly would that be - say per flight? Not long ago, I watched a video online where James Gosling was explaining how streaming data into the cloud from a robot in the sea, is something like a $1 per kilobyte in their liquid robotic project...
It would be interesting to know your thoughts on the subject...



I would argue that in terms of technology and infrastructure, the answer is no.

Obviously, this can't be done by using the cell phone infrastructure, as there are no towers over the ocean. That means that satellite is the only option. The current satellite technology barely provide good phone service... for this to work, it has to be able to handle video, and do so from every commercial aircraft in the air at any time.

Also, there are components that needs to be aligned correctly. This is really hard to do when the component is moving at hundreds of miles per hour, and doing banking maneuvers (which can change the orientation of the antennas). This is also the reason why satellite phones from aircraft are so poor -- heck, even the internet connection from cruise ships have huge issues, and they going much slower (and only doing turning on a 2D plane). Not only must it always work, it has to work for as long as possible and under worse than extreme conditions -- such as in a crashing scenario.


And about the cost. I don't think monetary cost would be the main concern. The main concern would likely be the cost in weight. You would need a really harden (robust) and redundant transmitter environment, with lots of shielding, that likely also needs additional generators to power them. This would probably make the plane too heavy to be usable.

Henry
 
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Henry Wong wrote:... and only doing turning on a 2D plane ...


Are you sure?



Although, I guess, under these conditions the quality of internet connection would be the least of my worries. How many toilets per passenger do cruise ships usually have?

Back to the original question, though: I believe that in most cases the flight data recorders ("black boxes") are eventually found, so the need to stream the data online is probably less pressing than we'd imagine. Also, there are some particular points in this case: firstly, the Malaysia authorities seem to have reacted insufficiently, most information eventually came from other parties. More competent aviation agency might perform much better in similar cases. Secondly, someone on the plane has intentionally switched off all communication. Just not allowing this to happen would probably suffice to get much better information about the fate of the plane, without any need to transmit detailed flight information online.
 
Henry Wong
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Martin Vajsar wrote:

Henry Wong wrote:... and only doing turning on a 2D plane ...


Are you sure?



Luckily, I have never been on a cruise ship that went through such rough conditions. About the roughest was during a storm in the pacific (Tahiti) -- and yea, I was kinda in the bathroom for a bit.

Martin Vajsar wrote:
Back to the original question, though: I believe that in most cases the flight data recorders ("black boxes") are eventually found, so the need to stream the data online is probably less pressing than we'd imagine. Also, there are some particular points in this case: firstly, the Malaysia authorities seem to have reacted insufficiently, most information eventually came from other parties. More competent aviation agency might perform much better in similar cases. Secondly, someone on the plane has intentionally switched off all communication. Just not allowing this to happen would probably suffice to get much better information about the fate of the plane, without any need to transmit detailed flight information online.



In my opinion, the wrong agency was handling it. Or if that was the correct one, then they need to fire a lot of people. What was they thinking? To physically escort out crying family members because the press conference was for media only?!?!?

Henry
 
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ujjwal soni wrote:Is there not a possibility of streaming live black box data (voice + flight data) on the cloud, in such a way that whenever such tragic events occur, there is readily available data to analyse and investigate?
Don't we have enough technologies and scientific research to enable this?
How much data per flight would that mean ?
What are the limitations?
Are there any security concerns?
Does the frequency at which these disasters occur outweigh the need of such technology?
How costly would that be - say per flight? Not long ago, I watched a video online where James Gosling was explaining how streaming data into the cloud from a robot in the sea, is something like a $1 per kilobyte in their liquid robotic project...
It would be interesting to know your thoughts on the subject...

Thank you,



Great topic !

Boeing has satellites to collect and process this data. Malaysian Air chose not to subscribe to Boeing's data service. Boeing charges $10.42 per filight to collect and process this data.

Another thing that needs to get done is increase the storage space on the FDRs and CVRs. Currently the law requires only 30 minutes of recording time, but most modern black boxes collect data for 2 hours. To hear the cockpit conversations from MH370 divert point, we would need at least 10 possibly 12 hours of recording time.

to and from independent "User Platforms" such as satellites, balloons, aircraft, and the International Space Station.
 
Roger Sterling
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Henry Wong wrote:I would argue that in terms of technology and infrastructure, the answer is no.



This is incorrect. The service does already exist, Malaysian Airlines just chose not to use it.

Malaysian Air Said to Opt Out of Boeing Jet-Data Service
 
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I was hearing a news item on NPR yesterday, and they had a researcher talking about this topic. He said the reason flight recorded data is not being streamed is primarily because of a) cost, and b) the airline industry is slow to change. It is technically feasible. The last part is understandable because they go through rigorous testing procedures before putting any kind of equipment in a plane. He said the main reason why streaming the data would be better than black boxes is because it would be easier to find the plane. They did some simulations on existing crashes, and they found that in most cases, having data streamed narrows the search area from 100s of miles (or in this case 1000s of miles) to 4 miles. It makes no sense to have the equipment that tells you what happened in a crash go down with the crash. We have this because the technology was desinged in the 60s/ 70s. There's no reason to keep the blackbox in the plane since the 90s
 
Roger Sterling
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The NPR reporter is mis-informed or biased. As stated in the cited references above, the streaming equipment is on all Boeing aircraft. Whether the airline that owns the aircraft chooses to subscribe to the satellite network is a choice the airline makes based on the airline's corporate policies.

There is use for on-board recorders, even with streaming being used, and the technology in the current on-board equipment generation is from 2006 not the 1960s. http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgTSO.nsf/0/29662c3b5885d29386257180007150b6/$FILE/TSO-C123b.pdf

It's clear from the misinformation provided by the reporter that the person is unfamiliar with the current technology in use.

Yes, there are reasons to keep black boxes in the plane. Telemetry data can be verified with the black box data. The black boxes also have the ability to continue recording data when the satellite goes offline or the signal temporarily lost, which happens during sunspot storms.

Sunspot storms happen daily, some are less severe. They cause static interference and affect the North American electricity grid, satellite communications, and aircraft radios. The Earth's magnetosphere protects us on the ground from some of the light to moderate sunspot radiation by deflecting the radiation back into space. Airplanes fly high above the Earth's surface where there is less protection.

Of course, some of your better news reporters would perform due diligence to verify the facts before they present their stories. For example, I was able to find the 2006 FAA Technical Standard Order for black boxes in about 90 seconds using Google. If I were a reporter, and I said that Cockpit Voice Recorder technology has not changed since the 1960s, I would be the laughing stock. But some news organizations get away with stuff like that because of their political alignment. I highly question the NPR reporter's assertion that states having data streamed would have helped MH370. What would have helped MH370 is having a working transponder or subscribing to the Boeing flight-following service. But Malaysia Airlines deemed it too costly to spend $10.42 per flight on flight-following. If flight-following were enabled, we would have known the precise location where the plane went into the water and we would not have to search. Who is the magical 'They' in the NPR statement ( "They did some simulations on existing crashes, and they found that in most cases, having data streamed narrows the search area from 100s of miles (or in this case 1000s of miles) to 4 miles." ) ? It always seems to escape the NPR people to cite valid sources. Aside from the 'they' statement being untrue, a rationally-thinking person may realize that NPR stories are staged to appeal to the Low Information crowd because they contain enough salacious details and a mixture of truth to attract their attention.
 
Henry Wong
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Just thought that I should mention this (since this topic includes death, and other uncomfortable subjects) ... the meaningless drivel forum assumes that topic don't get heated. If the topic does gets heated (and controversial topics do have a chance at that), they will be moved to a forum specifically for these types of topics -- called the "rattlesnake pit" forum. Actually, it is the next forum just under the meaningless drivel forum.


So... please don't make this topic controversial. If you do, this topic will be moved to the pit -- and at which point, only ranchers with enough cows will be able to post to it.

Henry
 
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A related question is why do Black Boxes only record 2 hours of data. The answer is the Pilot's Union vehemently opposes this. The pilots don't want the airline to listen in to conversations during a flight, and I can't say I blame them.

As for "why not ping the location every x minutes", the tradeoff is weight vs need. The hardware to ping a satellite has to be hauled around. In the mid-90's we had a product that we thought was perfect for airlines (play movies off a PC, imagine that). Looked into the requirements, our 10 lb system would turn into a 100 lb aircraft worthy system.

How often does something like this come up? Weight is money. Consider a few cents per flight, over thousands of flights a day, over years without it not being needed; as opposed to the 1 time you want to know where the plane went.
 
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Airlines are more cost-sensitive than you might think. (I noticed that one airline which I fly on occasionally reduced the size of the cheapo snacks they hand out from 15 grams to 14 grams, for example.) So something which costs $10 per flight is going to get scrutinized by numerous committees, especially if it adds weight to the plane.
 
Roger Sterling
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Just so we can all deal with the same set of facts, every modern Boeing aircraft that carries passengers is equipped with a Ku band receiver/transmitter and antenna like the one in these pictures.





@Jim V. Re: "As for "why not ping the location every x minutes", the tradeoff is weight vs need." How does your statement relate to MH370 given that the satellite communication hardware is already installed on every aircraft ?

@Paul C. Re: Agree with your point and cost sensitivity. There were 227 people on board. Each one of them now would agree to a ticket price increase of 4.5 cents to have Boeing flight-follow them. $10.42/227=4.5 cents. "especially if it adds weight to the plane." The weight is already on the plane. The satellite radio and antenna are already installed.

Technical information about the satellite communications system installed on every Boeing passenger aircraft : The antenna is a mechanically steered phased array antenna. The system is designed as two receive/transmit flat panels with appropriate provisions for coherent combining of the two flat panels to form effectively one larger elliptical narrow beam receive/transmit array with an elevation range of 0º to 90º. This system weighs 80 pounds, consumes 315 watts of DC power, and transmits at 20 watts effective radiated power. This system was designed in 2004 by Mitsubishi Electric. Panasonic has since acquired the design in 2006. An antenna control unit tracks the various satellites in the vicinity of the aircraft, picks the closest one, and moves the antenna array to point at the desired satellite. This antenna control technology actually originated in the U-2 spy plane avionics in the 1950s to move a phased array antenna to point at a particular ground station.

Boeing's eXConnect System consists of a network of eXConnect AES terminals (the “AES Segment”), leased satellite capacity on commercial Ku-band FSS satellites (the “Space Segment”) and iDirect hub earth stations and network management functionality (the “Ground Segment”). Relevant changes/additions to these eXConnect System elements to accommodate AURA LE AES operations are highlighted : Pointing for the AURA LE AES terminal is accomplished via mechanical steering of the antenna and uses the aircraft attitude data (i.e., yaw, roll, pitch and heading vector), together with location of the aircraft (latitude, longitude and altitude) to calculate the command vectors. Attitude data, available from the ARINC 429 bus, and satellite coordinates are used to continuously update steering commands for the antenna elevation, azimuth, and polarization. The pointing error of the AURA LE AES terminal is typically less than 0.20 deg. Pointing error is continuously monitored and emissions are automatically muted if the azimuth pointing error exceeds 0.35 deg.
 
Roger Sterling
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You can track the status of the entire Boeing fleet (airplanes owned by Boeing for use by Boeing) in real time on FlightAware because Boeing subscribes to its own flight-following service.





FlightAware is a global aviation software and data services company. Based in Houston, Texas, it is best known for the flightaware.com web site, the first to offer free flight tracking of both private and commercial aircraft in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It is currently the largest flight tracking website in the world in terms of users. FlightAware primarily provides services and data to aircraft and airport operators as well as other aviation organizations to assist in their operations. FlightAware provides enterprise services and tools to aircraft operators worldwide as well as flight tracking systems to airports in over 45 countries across North America, Europe, and Oceania. FlightAware also provides free, live, worldwide airline flight tracking to air travelers via the FlightAware.com web site and mobile apps. In addition to flight tracking, FlightAware also provides online pilot flight planning, airport information and airport fuel prices, as well as aviation news and photos on the web site and via an email newsletter that has a monthly circulation over three million. FlightAware can provide real-time contract card fuel prices for Universal Weather and Aviation for aircraft operators that have a UVair fuel card. The company has its headquarters at Eight Greenway Plaza in Houston, Texas and an advertising office at 500 Fifth Avenue in New York City.

At the time I posted this, here were the airborne flights :




In fact, here is a job description if you wanted to work on the software that governs the Flight-following service :

Leads activities and/or develops, documents, automates, and maintains architectures, requirements, algorithms, interfaces and designs for software systems. Leads and/or develops code and integration of complex software components into a fully functional software system. Leads and/or develops software verification plans, test procedures and test environments, executing the test procedures and documenting test results to ensure software system requirements are met. Leads, executes and documents software research and development projects. Serves as a subject matter expert for software domains, system-specific issues, processes and regulations. Tracks and evaluates software team and supplier performance to ensure product and process conformance to project plans and industry standards. Consults with Integration/Automation Test Team on Best Practices for Integration Testing and automation of Integration Testing. Leads, and/or develops integration testing and automation of integration testing effort for Jeppesen Hosted Aviation Services applications. Creates, automates and maintains integration test cases in Quality Center for the following applications: JetPlanner - a desktop client and CITRIX based application; FlitePlan Online - a web based flight planning application; Jetplan.com - a sun-setting web based flight planning application; Jeppesen Services Integrator (JSI) - a messaging bus - middleware for Jeppesen applications and services: The following back end services that provide information via XML through JSI to the front end applications: Weather Service, NOTAM Service, Flight Following Service, RAIM (GPS Satellite Prediction), Flight Plan Filing Service, Weight and Balance Service, Dynamic Runway Analysis (Takeoff Data). Creates Test Plans for each release and creates Software Test Signoff document for each release.

 
Roger Sterling
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Here are examples of aircraft that show the radome for the satellite antenna on the top of the fuselage about ten meters in front of the tail section for various models :

Boeing 737-800



Boeing 777-200ER



Boeing 737 Southwest Airlines






Boeing 737 United Airlines


 
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