The case for future media

In my last post, I advocated protected image recording in civil aviation. Its introduction has been long delayed despite a great number of safety recommendations that such recording be adopted. Delays occur but the world doesn’t stand still. Notwithstanding all the worldwide successes of achieving excellent safety performance, fatal aviation accidents continue to happen.

Emerging technologies arrive with faster introduction and adoption in every walk of life. For example, streaming media is growing at a pace far faster than past technological changes. There have been adventurous proposals that all civil aircraft should stream large amounts of data to a ground-based network for every moment of flight. The idea is not so wild. Conventional technology already allows manufactures, like Rolls-Royce to monitor the performance of their in-service aero engines across the globe[1]. The collection of data is paid for by the benifits gained in performance and understanding of the operational life of engines.

Could this be a replacement for dedicated on-board protected accident recording? My answer is: “no”.

Communication technofixes will help provide supporting information and be greatly valued. However, the benefits of protected on-board accident recording are in its incorruptibility and that it can preserve the last microseconds of an event. This is especially true when the event in question has unique attributes or is mysterious in some way.

Before the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland[2], few had thought of using a Cockpit Area Microphone (CAM) for explosion detection. There were faint noises at the end of the accident recording that needed careful analysis.

The conventional technology we use is rapidly being superseded. Obsolescence is inevitable. Computational speed is increasing, as is memory capacity. So, on-board aircraft systems will be advancing in one way or another. That progress needs to include protected aircraft accident recording.

Telling the story of an accident must be authentic. The means to do it needs to be incorruptible.

Thus, it’s reasonable that a degree of conservatism will prevail. In other words, accident recording equipment should be based on reliable fully proven technology. Adoption of the state-of-the-art may be attractive but extensive proving should be undertaken first.

The need for progress is primarily to improve how lessons are learned. That’s the fundamental. Data recovered post-accident is turned into information that can be effectively used to improve safety. Shortening the time between aquiring data and taking safety action must be an aim.

The industry and the authorities could make a leap forward in protected image recording, in civil aviation by making those images 3-dimensional. Carefully placed cameras can provide a wraparound view of a cockpit in all conditions. Then 3D video recording on replay could provide a virtual reality experience.

Already available, this technical capability could then provide investigators with all the details of an event in 360-degree wraparound virtual reality detail. The post-accident learning possibilities are great. Study and investigation could become an immersive event. A well-constructed and selectively edited 3D views could be used as a training aids. This subject should be researched.