Tag: black box

Germany wants robot cars to have a black box

black-box-rev-1000x667Germany is thinking about new laws to require car manufacturers equipped with an autopilot function to install a black box to help determine responsibility in the event of an accident.

The move follows the fatal crash of a Tesla Motors Inc Model S car in its Autopilot mode and increased  pressure on industry executives and regulators to ensure that automated driving technology can be used safely.

Under the proposed laws from Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, drivers will not have to pay attention to traffic or concentrate on steering, but must remain seated at the wheel so they can intervene in the event of an emergency. Although if you are not concentrating on the road it is hard to see how you can suddenly grab a steering wheel.

Manufacturers will also be required to install a black box that records when the autopilot system was active, when the driver drove and when the system requested that the driver take over, according to the proposals.

The draft is due to be sent to other ministries for approval this summer, a transport ministry spokesman said.


The technology to find a downed aircraft exists

Technology which means that planes cannot just “drop off the radar” like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, exists, but airlines felt it was too expensive to bother with.

Medium reports how technology needed to stream crucial flight data to the ground is already on the market – only airlines balked at the $100,000 price tag.

Commercial airliners do transmit some information: radio transponders identify them when scanned by radar, and many are fitted with an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, which periodically relays text-message like snippets of information about the aircraft’s status.

In the case of Flight MH370, the transponders seem to have stopped transmitting, and the airline has reportedly declined to comment about ACARS signals while the incident is being investigated.

Computer scientist Krishna Kavi, now at the University of North Texas, proposed streaming this data to cloud storage, in a system he dubbed the “glass box”.

The only problem is that transmitting data through satellites isn’t cheap, and if such a system were operating continuously, the cost would be prohibitive. Wired claimed it would cost “billions of dollars” to implement flight data streaming across the airline industry.

But most of the data is based on the maker of the existing black box technology L-3 which spun a false premise that all flight data would need to be streamed, all of the time.

Paul Hayes, safety and insurance director with Ascend, an aviation consultancy based said that systems could be designed to be triggered by unusual flight events, and only then start streaming flight data.

Such devices are already on the market, fitted to around 350 planes run by about 40 operators and they transmit data that help airlines plan maintenance, or work out how to minimise fuel consumption.

Richard Hayden, a director of FLYHT, the company that makes the system said that it transmits data via Iridium satellitesand can be programmed to start streaming flight data when a plane deviates from its flight plan, or instruments suggest something is going wrong.

If a plane is blown out of the sky by a bomb, or suffers a sudden catastrophic structural failure at cruising altitude it will not be much help but in those rare cases, conventional black boxes are really the only viable technology.

After the Air France disaster, the International Civil Aviation Organisation did consider installing the technology but the industry has concluded that the likely savings were too small. 

Inventor of black box dies

The Aussie engineer who invented the black box flight data recorder, has died.  He was 85

According to AP, David Warren was born in 1925 at a mission station on remote Groote Eylandt in far northern Australia, the first European child born on the island in the Gulf of Carpenteria.

In 1934, his father was killed in one of Australia’s first air disasters, the loss of the de Havilland 86 Miss Hobart in Bass Strait. His last gift to David was a crystal radio set.

This sparked an interest in electronics and engineering.Warren was the principal research scientist at DSTO’s Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne from 1952 to 1983.

He hit on the idea of a black box flight recorder when he was involved in investigating the crash of the world’s first commercial jet airliner, the Comet, as it was en route to Australia in 1953.

Warren’s idea was to create a recording device that could withstand a crash where there were no survivors and no witnesses.

No one was particularly interested in the idea at the time, but he carried on with it and in 1956 he designed and built the world’s first prototype flight data recorder, which became known as the “black box”

It took another five years before the rest of the world caught up with the idea and another five before it was legally binding for aircraft companies to have them. 

The high-tech machines that are installed in passenger airlines around the world are seen as a testament to Warren’s work and they are now being used in road transport to capture information in the lead-up to accidents.

Warren was awarded the Order of Australia for his service to the aviation industry and two years ago Qantas named an Airbus A380 aircraft after Dr Warren.

Certainly it is his genuis that has saved many people’s lives as it has enabled countless air accidents to be understood and prevented.

He is survived by his wife Ruth, four children and seven grandchildren and the countless passangers who made it to baggage claim thanks to his efforts