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Here’s an idea: Let’s put aircraft black boxes in the cloud

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As searchers from more than two dozen countries continue to look for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, some transportation experts are calling for a revamp of the traditional black box flight recorder, recommending that at least some key flight data be transmitted from aircraft to the cloud.

Clearly there are expenses and technology hurdles to be overcome. Streaming all that data from plane to some sort of database would be expensive, but periodically sending key snippets might not be cost prohibitive, experts told Reuters last week.

Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and a retired U.S. Air Force General, said the latest aviation mishap, along with the loss five years ago of Air France flight 447 in the Atlantic, should spur reform of an antiquated investigation process.

The availability of even limited data from the black box and cockpit voice recordings could speed up accident inquiries and locate a plane in trouble if it’s beyond the reach of ground-based radar, he noted.

Oliver McGee, another former NTSB official, concurred, telling Reuters that it’s time “to move the black box to the cloud at least for essential limited flight recorder data for long flights over [over remote areas].” More here from McGee.

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Mark Lucovsky, the star engineer who’s moved from Digital Equipment to Microsoft(s msft) to Google(s goog) to VMware(s vmw) to Mombo Labs, talks about why he’s building atop someone else’s cloud, and not building clouds himself anymore.

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Gearing up for a big week in cloud

Stay tuned for a ton o’ cloud news this coming week, with dueling San Francisco events — Google Platform Live on Tuesday, AWS Summit on Wednesday, and a Satya Nadella-headlined Microsoft confab about the intersection of mobility and cloud on Thursday. Oh, and a Pivotal  platform-as-a-service chalk talk for good measure.

Whether there’s a ton of news is almost beside the point. These vendors are in full-fledged land grab (cloud grab?) mode now.

More cloud news

Red Hat taps once-skeptical Gartner analyst to lead OpenStack push

Amazon Web Services: What’s it worth?

Cloud Computing is still in its early days: Amitabh Srivastava, EMC

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Auckland Photo News Rodger McCutcheon

69 Responses to “Here’s an idea: Let’s put aircraft black boxes in the cloud”

  1. Dhananjay

    Ok that is only a simple concept but the bigger idea and I want to give free hint is real time data communication is the key across all the vehicles going forward. You don’t get the hint sorry that’s my project..cant disclose more than that.

  2. Anonymous

    We already have the ACARS transponders sending engine data to the cloud. All you need is to send the GPS address and speed and heading of the plane, and have a battery backup. A disgruntled pilot shuts off everything else, but the ACARS transmitter has its battery and sends the GPS data. X marks the spot!

  3. So what we have here is another “official” that knows exactly zero about “cloud” trying to add sexy words in order to make himself relevant.

    Planes already transmit telemetry data back and have been doing it for years.

  4. Funny, I just wrote about this in response to comments over at CNN. Certainly, there is less need given advancements in technology for the “black box” – more importantly however, is the issue of why/how systems get shut off from the cockpit. If they are integral to the discovery process – the idea that a pilot can shut off priority systems that have little to do with the control and care of a flight in progress seems a little asinine to me.

  5. speednut

    Expanded telemetry data isn’t a “cloud” thing. It’s something that’s been done for decades in several industries. For some reason commercial airliners and governing bodies have been funding tied and politically hampered to make real improvements here. Keeping a black box on board would be required, as a 100% up availability to stream data based on weather conditions wouldn’t be feasible. As Jim mentioned the only way would be Satellite-based comms which are for commercial reasons a cost inhibitor. It would have to be implemented the same way air traffic control was, through government intervention / agencies in order to get commercial airline buy-in.

  6. Robert Jenkins


    You are exactly right, locking data down to a physical (moving) and sadly sometimes fragile location doesn’t make much sense. I note some of the negatives raised by people regarding cost.

    Actually we are liaising with a number of parties working on this problem. The biggest challenge is actually regulation and transparency. Airlines are very nervous about opening up all their maintenance and performance information in a way that would make it easier for authorities to inspect (passengers have an interest in transparency however).

    The main positive for airlines is a much more streamlined maintenance regime including preemptive maintenance. The savings from preventing planes ‘going technical’ i.e. being grounded due to maintenance are very high. Much higher than the cost of streaming and storing the data.

    So the situation is good overall and I believe this will get implemented with some of the more forward looking airlines in the not too distant future.


  7. The only really interesting aspect of this story is that it isn’t already done as standard.

    Easy to envisage a small device that reports GPS coordinates, heading, etc, every minute via radio to ground station (perhaps via satellite). Each plane could have several, in nose, tail, wings and each engine, then easy to locate all major parts of aircraft after a crash, and cross-check data. It’d be (relatively) cheap and easy to install/operate.

    Only downside would be permanence of data and certain flights need to be “off the grid”, so there’d have to be a way to disable it, which means it’d be vulnerable to attack. Even so, a worthwhile initiative, especially if partially funded by making the data available to third-parties for various uses.

  8. Eli Hini

    I believe Flyht (, a Calgary based company, does something similar to this. They use satellite communication to connect to servers on land. They can even communicate directly with the aircraft in real time.

  9. Back up style its a great idea. It would also hold more data, and record a longer time. I think it should be used as a backup to the black box and not a replacement, The plane should still have the hard copy on board.

  10. ishekhar

    i am not sure what cost prohibit folks are talking about here ?

    No one is saying put ALL the gazallion of data from blackbox in the cloud, but some basic and coordinate data at least to start with.

    We all know its satellite connection and not cell-tower data but don’t’ we get $9.99 all you can watch internet connection on transatlantic flights already ?

    And third, just don’t’ provide a SWITCH-OFF option; neither for pilot nor for anyone else.

  11. You need both. Black Dropbox and the current version. If turned off deliberately, you still have the ‘closed circuit’ version. If not then it can tell us what happened before we find the actual box.

  12. For this time in age, with so much human intelligence, technology in electronics, I cannot comprehend the reason why a tracker device that can be installed in a car, boat, and we are thinking be used in humans, for the whereabouts can be picked up by satellite. By operating independently of any circuits of the flying instruments, if we will talk about airplanes. Placed in a comportment under the plane on the external face, unreachable by any internal means.

    It means to anyone be able to reach it, needs to go outside to be able to accesses to disable it or remove it. I doubt that will cost millions in any currency to be installed, for the safety and peace of mind to humans.

    Let us be honest and look at present reality, how much has been spend on fuel, equipment, salaries, waste of human hours to look for one plane, that so far after all this days nothing has be confirmed the where about.

  13. Timothy O'Toole

    How about a black box redesign to eject out of a high air pressure launch tube with a float device and parachute at maybe 500 ft if the pilot hasn’t disabled the launcher by entering password code as part of landing approach procedure? Not nearly as expensive as Satcom.

  14. John Kotronis

    nuh its not so “important” as having the personal mobiles as GPS and recording devices for skying private lifes!

    who cares about an aircraft right!??? /sarcasm