Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Finding a Flash Drive in the Sea - NYTimes.com

Finding a Flash Drive in the Sea - NYTimes.com







“YESTERDAY,
the aerial search for floating debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was
called off, and an underwater search based on possible locator beacon signals
was completed without success. Although efforts to find the missing aircraft
have not been abandoned, Angus Houston, the man in charge of finding the plane,
said, “We haven’t found anything anywhere.”


The more than
50-day operation, which the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, calls
“probably the most difficult search in human history,” highlights a big
technology gap. We live in the age of what I once called “the Internet of
Things,” where everything from cars to bathroom scales to Crock-Pots can be
connected to the Internet, but somehow, airplane data systems are barely
connected to anything.


Investigators
discovered Flight 370’s path into the Indian Ocean using an unorthodox analysis
of data from the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting
System, or Acars, which was invented in the 1970s and is based on telex, an
almost century-old ancestor of text messaging made essentially obsolete by fax
machines.







That aircraft
system was not designed for locating planes...


...The solution to these problems is simple: We need
new satellite technology. And it’s arriving. Wealthy private investors and
brilliant young engineers are dragging satellites into the 21st century with
inventions including “flocks” of “nanosatellites” that weigh as little as three
pounds; flat, thin antennas built from advanced substances called
“metamaterials”; and “beamforming,” which steers radio signals using software.


On Jan. 9, a San Francisco-based start-up called Planet Labs sent a
flock of 28 nanosatellites into space. The first application for this type of
technology is taking pictures of the Earth, but it could also be used to
receive data streaming from aircraft retrofitted with those new, flat
“metamaterial” antennas. There are many other possible systems. Dozens of new
satellite technologies are emerging, with countless ways to combine them.
Streaming data from planes is about to become cheap and easy...”
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