Posts Tagged black boxes

Malaysia’s MH370. What makes it so valuable?

Posted by on Tuesday, 15 April, 2014
Funny cartoon about motorcycles

Misplaced confidence

AN INVALUABLE AIRCRAFT

An airplane disappeared with 239 people on board.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad hates to hear stuff like that. If you have any sort of connection to any of the passengers, you have my deepest sympathy.

What a horrible thing!

Crazy too.

The chances of dying in a fire are about 1200 to 1. From a car accident or from  poison, about 1 in 120. From an airplane accident? About 11 million to 1.

In other words, you are safer – much, much safer – in the seat of a stupid airplane than you are sitting in your own living room where you could get caught in a fire or accidentally eat rat poison thinking it was some new candy treat from the lunatic next door. The disappearance of that airplane – of any commercial airliner-  is unthinkable.

When Manilla’s flight MH370 disappeared from radar on March 8, 2014, it was a twelve year old Boeing 777.  An airplane like that isn’t cheap but you can pick one up for 40 to 50 million dollars.

Now that it’s (probably) in pieces at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, it’s worth a fortune. The airline industry wants it badly. Because airplane accidents are so amazingly rare, this is a remarkable opportunity to learn from an honest to God airplane accident – an extremely rare chance to improve air safety even more. Boeing needs that thing to figure out if there were any issues with design or manufacture. Insurance companies need a look to settle the many interwoven claims against various parties. The airline needs it so it can prove it wasn’t negligent and to improve its own practices. Malaysia and China need to find it for political purposes because so many citizens want to tar and feather certain leaders over the way the accident was (mis)handled. And even the US which wasn’t directly involved (just one US citizen) would like to have a look at those those black boxes and examine key pieces of the wreckage.

It sounds cold to focus on the “worth” of the wreckage. I don’t mean it that way. I really do feel awful about the accident. However, if you’re trying to figure out why so much national treasure and effort is being invested in the search for this wreckage in “the most dangerous place on the planet”, it may help to understand the importance of the secrets hidden within that wreckage.

SOLVING THE MYSTERY

Will the aircraft be found? Will it ever be possible to deduce exactly what happened?

If you haven’t tuned out by now, you probably know that the search area has been narrowed down. As of this writing, the use of robotic submersibles has just begun. In the opinion of MISTER ScienceAintSoBad, they aren’t exagerating about what a rotten location this is. This area is remote, has indescribably bad weather, and very deep and uncharted water. If the airplane had been lost even a few years ago, it might have been hopeless. This is more like a planetary expedition than sending some soldiers to comb through a wreck somewhere but I think the search will go on until something is found. It’s an “in for a dime, in for a dollar” deal. So much has already been invested, and so much is riding on the results, that I don’t think giving up is on the menu.

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The drawing is mine.


A Spy Under Your Hood. Your Data And Who’s Going To Get It.

Posted by on Sunday, 24 November, 2013
Humorous cartoon about black boxes in cars

The Car That Knew Too Much

A GREAT DATA SUCKING SOUND

Almost all new cars now have “black box” event recorders. They collect data about the way the vehicle is driven.

Lots of data.

The black boxes were originally placed there to help make life/death decisions about when and how air bags should be deployed based on what’s happening in the car at the time of a crash. But the data can be used for other stuff too.

If there’s an accident and the accident was caused by bad brakes, there’s an opportunity to learn from that. Brakes will get better.

That’s a good thing. But I should warn you. This is a step in the “data wars”.

INSURANCE AND YOUR BLACK BOX

eSurance offers you you a big discount on premiums. All you have to do is add its gadget to your car.  “Drivesense” uploads the data from your car to its own database and then let’s you review your driving and learn from it. The hitch? Your folks get to review your driving and learn from it too. If things go good – if the gadget shows that you’re the right kind of driver – eSurance will reduce your premiums by up to 30 percent.

Would they use this data to raise your premiums?

Never, they say.

But what if you have an accident? Would eSurance deny a claim based on what is learned from Drivesense?

What do you think?

After an accident, automotive event recorders “lock down” the details of what was happening. I already described how car makers plan to use it to improve future designs.

With a court order, others can get it too. Even though it’s your car, the other party in the accident may be able to use the information from your black box against you.

Some people find that annoying as hell.

What else?

YOUR CAR’S BLACK BOX AND YOUR TAXES

Could automotive event records be used to raise revenue for government? Maybe charge a tax based on miles driven?

Some states are on it. Congress might be too.

I’m serious.

The thinking is that by sticking it to.. scuse me – by taxing miles driven, maybe there’s an opportunity here to make drivers think twice about eco-friendly alternatives. Trains, bicycles, subways.

Did I mention that it might also be an excuse to just plain raise more taxes?

CAR TO CAR DATA SWAPPING

David Shamah (Tel Aviv Tech writing in ZD Net) discusses the biggest plan for all this data. Inter-vehicular connectivity. GM’s vision – and that of others in the industry – is that cars will be part of an enormous public network that swaps data back and forth between vehicles and other infrastructure to prevent accidents and optimize driving efficiency. This could certainly be the data backbone of self driving cars.

Typically, the event recorders are located under the drivers seat. Getting at it is a pain since it’s usually under the carpet. Although I haven’t seen it, I imagine mine with the words PANDORA scrawled across the top.

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The drawing is mine.