Airplane "black box" -----> real time cloud storage?

Why can’t the information that goes into the flight data recorder-- not sure what the official name is, but the “black box”-- be transmitted in real time to some kind of “cloud storage” by cell phone (or the like) so the box itself doesn’t have to be found to access the data?

I don’t know anything about what format the data is in or transmission-- maybe the voice data would have to be converted to something digital… it just seems like there ought to be a way to do that, especially for flights that routinely cross major oceans. Presumably the black box would eventually be found if a plane crashes on land. But over the ocean? That seems a scant hope.

Problem #1
No cell service in the middle of the ocean.

They have satellite communication.

The official name is “flight data recorder” and the other is “cockpit voice recorder”.

As noted, no cell reception over the ocean. Or over vast swathes of land like the Sahara or north pole, both of which commercial flights routinely fly over.

Any data transmission can be interupted. I think we’d still like to have the on-board recorders as back up.

Also, since Flight 447’s black boxes were found it seems we now have the technology to find these things on the ocean floor almost anywhere. It’s just a matter of time and money. :wink:

It’s a good idea. No doubt it will be implemented in the course of time. Remember of course that the aircraft industry is necessarily conservative and change is slow. I can foresee some legal wranglings from affected parties with respect to ownership of the data, storage issues, determining who has legal access to the data and under what circumstances, accountability issues, the length of time that a person or organisation might be held liable for things said or done (which may or may not be related to an air disaster). As I understand it, black box data is only the last 30 minutes or so of time. Instantaneous upload will allow full recording and permanent storage and that may not go down well.

Also, there is likely to be some lag. It is probable that the last few seconds will always be missing. Those are usually the most critical, in my understanding.

There is data service in the middle of the ocean. It is via satellite and not cell towers. The Air France flight that went down in the Atlantic was sending flight information until it crashed into the ocean. You can get inflight wifi on most long haul routes. Not all planes have internet for passengers but the coverage is over most of the globe.

There have been some calls to have more of the black box information sent in real time over the air.

This link has the map to to passenger data coverage for United Airlines. Most of the world is covered. The big holes are south Pacific and south Atlantic. About the only routes that look like they would be affected are South America to Australia and South America to southern Africa. I assume the hole over china is a political one and not a technical one.

We did this a few years ago. It essentially boils down to a cost versus benefits issue. Too many changes would have to be made to an already existing and well-functioning infrastructure.

The cost/benefit tradeoff doesn’t seem favorable. It would not be cheap to develop, implement on all airliners, and maintain. The benefit would be minimal - it wouldn’t directly save any lives, only provide data in the rare (once a decade?) instance where existing data recorders aren’t recovered.

Is it still true that airplane black boxes contain only a limited amount of storage space for data? For example, after the plane crash that killed Payne Stewart, both data recorders were blank because they had overwritten themselves.

This was discussed on NPR today. The “black box” is 1960’s technology. It was designed to be bullet proof and everything else proof. The system is in serious need of upgrade but the cost to refit 10’s of thousands of aircraft would be enormous. Not that it shouldn’t happen.

In the scheme of the total amount of air traffic, the incidents where black boxes are difficult to find are very small. This latest incident may move the effort ahead to upgrade the system but at best, it will take time.

Payne Stewart was a special case. The actual plane didn’t fail and flew just fine until it ran out of fuel. It was the pressurization that failed. I don’t think that’s anything the data recorder tracks, so even if it were sending data into the cloud, there would be no indication of what went wrong.

Did it seem that I was suggesting this to replace the recorders? Actually I was thinking of the opposite-- that the cloud storage back up the box.

The ACARS system is the nearest to the ideal that we have in operation today.

There is no technological reason why all the data now stored in both black boxes couldn’t be transmitted, probably by satellite, to some land-based repository, continuously.

But with today’s technology, the amount of bandwidth and data storage that would have to be allocated would be prohibitive.

One solution: transmit less data, or less frequently.

Here’s A Good Thing: Since data that was ridiculously too big yesterday is ridiculously too small to worry about today, and this trend shows no sign of stopping, it will be only a matter of time before it will be practical.

My personal suggestion, based upon many years of broad-based computer use, design and implementation, would be to start slowly. Set up an expanded ACARS system that transmitted more data than now, but not too frequently. Voice? Compress it, and transmit when the bandwidth permits. Allow for flexibility – if traffic is heavy, reduce the amount of traffic generated. Then, as technology improves, expand where and when you can. The possibilities are endless.

Also, start with flights that go over open water. Planes that crash over land get found quickly. It’s these few flights that disappear over the open ocean that create immense search and recovery efforts.

For a fixed storage, there is always a limit as to how much data can be retained. As storage gets larger and cheaper, these limits can be expanded. There always has to be a limit, but cloud or ground storage would be much greater than on-board storage where weight and size can be major factors.

Satellite data is horribly expensive.

It depends upon what you want to transmit, and how often. You could code up a simple summary of health, and perhaps only record deltas on critical systems. That might give clue. Eventually there is a cost reward problem.

As noted, there is near all Earth coverage with satellite data. BGAN gets you ADSL equivalent bandwidth, and is what some planes use for on plane Internet. If the plane has that already, it has almost everything needed to transmit data. But it is expensive, and transmitting cockpit voice would be horridly expensive, but you could upload a useful subset of engineering data. Which is what is already done.

There are some very neat cheap all of Earth solutions for limited data. RockBlock is one.

One might imagine a post accident uplink system. Whilst plummeting from the sky one of these could uplink a block of data summarising the state of the system just before catastrophic failure. But that wouldn’t have help with Air France.

INMARSat is the agency that would probably provide such a service. No doubt they have already thought about it. Maybe on the next generation of satellites.

Another thread suggested having high-flotation recorders in large numbers onboard in such a way as to ensure at least one of them would be found.

Since ACARS has solved the problem of converting status into an electronic beep (and, I’m guessing, a digital one at that): if DSL uses (or used) telephone wiring, the idea of piggybacking data on existing wires is probably solved.
Turn the planes wiring harness (I don’t want to see what it looks like on those monsters) into a transmission network an use a small digitizer of some sort recording to a USB/RFID/whatever chip inside a literal orange tennis ball (lightweight version) stuck between the hull and the interior plastic panels. attached to hull with the equivalent of Post-it [sup]TM[/sup] adhesive, so they don’t fall out every time maintenance opens the panels
Anytime a hull is breached, a dozen or so of these fall out.

No addition wiring - huge cost savings right there, about a half pound or so for ball and digitizer.
What’s wrong with this pic?

Both flight recorders only record the last 30 minutes of data. Think of it as a 30 minute tape loop. That’s all the data needed. For in cloud recording, they’d have to transmit all the time. I dunno. The current system seems to work.

Not anymore they don’t. Modern CVRs will record two hours of data. Some recent accidents such as the Colgan Dash 8 in Buffalo and the UPS A300 at Birmingham have a CVR that covers the entire flight from startup to impact. Modern FDRs record 17-25 hours of data.

The FAA only requires that they record 30 minutes but the modern units exceed those requirements.

Flight data is also downloaded periodically by the airline and analysed for operational issues.