A North Texas engineer believes a technology upgrade he’s been advocating since the late 90’s could have prevented the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 from going missing.
University of North Texas professor Dr. Krishna Kavi calls the technology the “glass box.” It would be an upgrade to the current “black box” flight recorder system on airplanes, rather than just record and store data from a flight’s cockpit like the current system.
Dr. Kavi said the glass box would stream that information in real time to the ground."You will know right then and there because you'll have the technology to be able to do that,” he says, “rather than finding out in the end.”
Dr. Kavi says the technology for the glass box is already utilized in phones and computers and even, to an extent, on airplanes that provide Wi-Fi for passengers.The professor of engineering has been pitching the plan for years to airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Board, but he says the issue of cost is the roadblock every time.
NBC 5 aviation expert Denny Kelly says cost is the reason technology like the glass box isn’t common place. He says some planes do utilize something similar already, but to put it into wide use would come with some issues.
Along with the actual cost of the technology Kelly says you have to consider the massive amounts of data that it would need to be hosted and stored. He says there would also likely be a lot of manpower required to monitor all that data from every plane in use.Kelly says there’s also the matter of weather or not the costs would be worth the technology that would likely come into play, primarily, in the rare instance of a crash or even rarer instance of a disappearance.
Dr. Kavi says the cost is very hard to determine at this point. He says L3 Communications out of New York estimated a price tag of over $300 million to stream the kind of data the glass box would collect, but Kavi feels that figure is a “red herring.”
"Unless you start exploring the design options you won't know anything,” he said.
He says the amount of data streamed would not be anything as large as what the box collects; only sending the most critical data in real time. As for the manpower issues he says today’s technology would allow computers to sift through the information much like a heart monitor on a remote patient that alerts a doctor when something is strange or abnormal.
"A computer can say, does it look like an anomaly? So if they say it's an anomaly you can ask for more data,” said Kavi.
He also feels the glass box would likely be used to detect trends on planes and provide data to improve efficiency along the way; rather than just being there to prevent an emergency.
However he doesn’t deny that cost would still be a factor to some degree. That’s why he feels it will require bold action to make the box a safety priority.
"Unless government's going to mandate, the airlines aren't going to spend the money,” he said, “If you remember some didn't want airbags, didn't want seat belts because it's too expensive."
Dr. Kavi says he first began looking into the glass box as an option after the Egypt Air crash of 1999 when a flight bound for Cairo from Los Angeles mysteriously crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing more than 200 people.There’s since been controversy over whether the crash was mechanical failure or a deliberate act by one of the pilots; something that baffled Kavi and one of his students at the time.
"We were talking about what can we do, how do we know what's happening inside the cockpit and so on,” he said.
Since then the professor says his glass box comes up for discussion after almost every major air incident that happens, but the result is always a thumbs down based on cost.
Dr. Krishna Kavi has been a Professor of Engineering for UNT and researcher at several other universities since the early 80’s. He’s also served as a program manager for the National Science Foundation.
Most recently he’s become a leader in developing the Industry/University Cooperative Center for Net Centric Software; a group of several Texas colleges that works alongside major industries to help them “engineer the future.”
Kavi and Kelly both agreed that the glass box technology will someday likely be common place on flights; it’s just a matter of how long it takes for the price to get worked out.