Why is the black box not stored in the cloud?

June 6, 2016 by John Stevenson, City University London

Professor David Stupples, City's Professor of Electronic and Radio Systems, says the time has come for the flight data recorder (FDR) and the cockpit data recorder (CDR) - the black box found on aircraft - to be stored in the cloud. The usually orange-coloured flight recorder is an electronic recording device used in the event of an aviation accident (or incident) investigation.

Professor Stupples' recommendation comes in the wake of recent commercial airline accidents at sea where the recovery of the aircraft's from considerable sea depths is frequently long and arduous.

He suggests that following the disappearances of Air France 447 over the South Atlantic, Malaysian MH370 over the Southern Indian Ocean and recently EgyptAir MS804 over the Mediterranean, the aviation industry should reconsider the safe recording of flight data and flight-deck voice communications (the so-called 'black boxes') on a cloud facility, remote from the aircraft where it is instantaneously accessible:

"In the Air France incident it took two years to recover the and in order to discover the cause of the crash leading to better training for pilots. With Malaysian MH370, it has been over two years since the disappearance with search teams no closer to finding the black boxes. Relatives of the lost crew and passengers are still awaiting closure and the world still needs knowledge of the cause of the loss."

Why is the black box not stored in the cloud?
Credit: City University London

Professor Stupples says the solution to black box storage "is very simple" and all that is needed is for the "required monitoring data to be streamed via satellite - Inmarsat for example - to a safe cloud storage facility".

He believes that due to the cost of implementing this solution and airline pilots not wanting their casual conversations recorded for extended periods of time, the aviation industry may be slow to respond:

"The cost factor comes down to retrofitting airliners with the required communications equipment and charges for using satellite communications to stream the required data. The technology could be prepared for very little additional cost."

Why is the black box not stored in the cloud?
Credit: City University London

Professor Stupples adds:

"Perhaps some arrangement should be negotiated with airline pilots whereby their conversations would remain confidential and only stored for a limited period of time to maintain personal privacy. This is not 'rocket science' and the authorities should begin considering public safety rather that constantly considering the 'purse strings."

Why is the black box not stored in the cloud?
Credit: City University London

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12 comments

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HTK
not rated yet Jun 06, 2016
Why not have a black box ejection like the fighter pilot ejection that will parachute down and float if on water?
Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2016
Why not have a black box ejection like the fighter pilot ejection that will parachute down and float if on water?


Because that would require the system to somehow understand that a crash is happening, before it actually happens, and would lose the final seconds of recording that would show what happened.

The technology could be prepared for very little additional cost."


I don't think he really appreciates the bandwidth requirements for millions of airplanes. Satellite is great for downlink data to the airplane, poor for uplink bandwidth out of the airplane.
FredJose
1 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2016
Excellent idea by the prof! Of course like HTK says, perhaps an ejection of the black box might be appropriate.
With the storage of data in the cloud, perhaps the data could be analyzed via machine learning programs and used to predict possible failure of components or systems long before it might even occur if not checked. Who knows, it might even become useful in designing better flight systems.
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2016
perhaps the data could be analyzed via machine learning programs and used to predict possible failure of components


The engine manufacturers already have remote diagnostics for exactly that purpose.
NIPSZX
not rated yet Jun 06, 2016
What a genius idea!!!!! Absolutely brilliant! This should of been adopted years ago!
ab3a
3 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2016
First, there is a legal issue: Nobody likes snoops. The reason this stuff isn't in the cloud is because pilot unions don't want the last words of a pilot haunting the family for the rest of their lives. That is why in the US you can only read transcripts of the pilot conversation, not hear the audio itself.

Second, "black boxes" are meant to be very durable. Getting a signal to a satellite is not as easy to do if the aircraft is gyrating about in the air. In general, it is easier to record things locally in a durable container than it is to attempt offloading everything to some cloud server.

Above all, we need the information, not the convenience or insecurity of cloud storage. We can afford to be patient until someone discovers the boxes.
malapropism
5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2016
Above all, we need the information, not the convenience or insecurity of cloud storage. We can afford to be patient until someone discovers the boxes.

But the obvious problem is, what if they are never found? MH370 might be a case in point - unless the searchers are now very lucky it seems that the wreckage, and therefore the recorders, may never be discovered. There doesn't appear to be any rational point for not having both the recorders and a cloud-based backup in semi-realtime. Given that comms can always fail, having the onboard recorders (or rather, simply not removing them in favour of the cloud storage idea) seems like a good belt-and-braces kind of approach.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2016
Why not have a black box ejection like the fighter pilot ejection that will parachute down and float if on water?

You should realize that the beacon on the black box helps in locating the remnants of the aircraft which contributes significantly to solving the accident. Thus, ejecting it would just complicate things even more.
ab3a
not rated yet Jun 06, 2016
But the obvious problem is, what if they are never found?


Never is a long time. It took years to find the AF 447 boxes, but they were recovered and analyzed.

To determine exact causes of a disaster, one must first find a wreckage. The boxes aren't always going to have useful data. Sometimes the data make no sense until the forensics from the wreckage are brought to bear.

It is poor policy to put so much design effort toward solving a problem that has only happened a very few number times in aviation history.

Even the infamous Avro Lancastrian accident from 1947 was eventually discovered (Look up "STENDEC").

I believe it may take years, but eventually MH370 will be found.
dustywells
not rated yet Jun 12, 2016
Although Professor Stupples' solution has merit, it seems to be overkill and typical of the 'all or nothing' approach so common today. The black boxes have decades of proven success and do not need replacing.

A simple 'I am here' beacon transmitting the craft's ID and GPS coordinates every few seconds should be sufficient.

At the least such a beacon would narrow the search area to within a few square miles in case of a loss. Potentially many additional safety improvements are also possible when interfaced with appropriate data and software on the ground.
robweeve
not rated yet Jun 12, 2016
Why doesn't it eject before the crash?
ab3a
1 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2016
A simple 'I am here' beacon transmitting the craft's ID and GPS coordinates every few seconds should be sufficient.


That already exists. It's called ADS-B.

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