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Media (Apple) Media Hardware

iPods to be Used as Flight Data Recorders 200

udamahan writes "Flight Global reports small aircraft manufacturer LoPresti is introducing a system that uses an iPod as a flight data recorder. The company states that they chose the iPod for its size, low power requirements, and the 'thousands of developers passionate about writing applications for the iPod.' The article notes that data recorders are typically used for maintenance, flight/safety analysis, or, assuming proper protection, crash investigation."
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iPods to be Used as Flight Data Recorders

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  • Shocking... (Score:5, Funny)

    by arlo5724 ( 172574 ) <(jacobw56) (at) (> on Friday March 02, 2007 @03:44AM (#18204338)
    Hmmm, not so sure if I like the sounds of this. I broke an iPod by dropping it about 4 feet, I can only imagine how one will fare after plummeting 30,000...
    • Re:Shocking... (Score:5, Informative)

      by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Friday March 02, 2007 @03:46AM (#18204352) Journal
      It's not how far it falls, it's how much shock it takes at the end. Doesn't take much high-density foam to trim the impact shock to something the drive can tolerate. Surviving a fire, on the other hand...


      • by Konster ( 252488 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:05AM (#18204442)
        Just throw it out of the plane before it crashes, no need to worry about fire then.
      • Re:Shocking... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by spagetti_code ( 773137 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @06:49AM (#18205112)
        My flash drive says its good for 2000Gs ! I've been wondering how to test that. iPod's flash is probably something similar. It doesn't matter if the circuitry survives, just the flash.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by drsquare ( 530038 )
          It may survive the pressure, but will it survive the rest of the plane smashing through it?
        • by jcorno ( 889560 )
          My flash drive says its good for 2000Gs ! I've been wondering how to test that. iPod's flash is probably something similar. It doesn't matter if the circuitry survives, just the flash.

          They're not talking about a Shuffle. I would be very surprised if that spinning hard drive could handle more than a few Gs.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by koyangi ( 926760 )

          My flash drive says its good for 2000Gs ! I've been wondering how to test that. iPod's flash is probably something similar. It doesn't matter if the circuitry survives, just the flash.

          I am sure these guys [] can help you out there.

          The MIL-STD-901D light weight hammer test [] will get you there (we see over 2,000 Gs all the time), but I my personal favorite is the 901D heavy weight barge test []. It will only get you about 300Gs worst case (although the shock duration is much longer), but you get to set off 65lb TNT charges. Well worth the price of admission.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Also, see the Otterbox...

        They say the case they sell is crushproof, waterproof, airtight and they make iPod enclosures.

        I might buy one eventually because I like listening to music when I swim, and I've heard good things about them. Does anyone know if the iPod stops working at something like 35000 feet or so, and would the container somehow negate this effect? I'm pretty clueless about this stuff, but I assume that case would help somewhat...
        • I work at a distributor where we sell both (otterboxes are the low end line of Underwater Kinetics). Pelican and UK cases are better for this application because they're vented. Otter Boxes have a higher crush pressure, but may burst if there's sudden decompression.

          I wouldn't recommend either company's iPod cases for this application either. Go with something like a Pelican 1200 or UK 5010 so that there's LOTS of foam padding. We're not talking about 15 minutes of jogging followed by a drop from 1 meter,
        • You and your iPod would stop working at 35000 feet. I assume this is a plug in your iPod in the cockpit sort of thing, so...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by JonathanR ( 852748 )
      And since most "black box" flight recorders are actually bright orange, it makes one wonder what colour they'll choose.
    • Worse still (Score:5, Funny)

      by MountainMan101 ( 714389 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:08AM (#18204458)
      After an accident there will be many people who need to investigate the flight data. How problematic is it going to be that they will only be able to put the data on five computers?
    • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:20AM (#18204504) Homepage
      If you can get your single-engine piston aircraft to 30,000 feet, you're doing well. If you ran into problems, you'd have time to phone in the flight data recorder information before you hit the ground...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TEMMiNK ( 699173 )
      It's not it breaking we have to worry about, its having to install iTunes on the aircraft's computer systems to use the damn thing!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Scorchio ( 177053 )
      If you're fed up with breaking your delicate iPods, why not try adapting a flight data recorder to play MP3s?
  • Hmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RFaulder ( 1016762 )
    I would assume that they would be using flash-based iPods rather than HDD models, as I doubt a 1.8" drive could withstand an airplane crash.
  • Wow. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NerveGas ( 168686 )

          "Black Boxes" are made to survive all kinds of unbelievable crashes, impacts, fires, explosions, etc.. Instead, these brainiacs are going to use something that breaks if it drops out of your pocket. Way to go, guys.

    • Re:Wow. (Score:4, Funny)

      by John Pfeiffer ( 454131 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @03:48AM (#18204360) Homepage
      Drops out of your pocket? The damned things break if you drop it IN your pocket!
    • It won't break (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QueePWNzor ( 1044224 )
      They'll probably secure it properly to avoid something like that. Its size will make that easily possible. Remember inertia? It can't just fly out of where it's held. If the plane crashes, it'll be still where it was attached - just under a bit of rubble.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by 2meen ( 728316 )
        But what if that part of the plane ends up on the other side of the island?
      • The problem is the hard disk platters used, you would think they'd be sensitive to a thump even with lots of padding etc.

        Then again perhaps they're using solid state memory, but then data recovery is harder (data can be retrieved off tape that has been submerged and damaged etc, this would be much harder with on-chip memory).

        Then again.. perhaps these aren't meant to be used in black boxes, and are just for recording data for maintenance etc.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Black Boxes" are made to survive all kinds of unbelievable crashes, impacts, fires, explosions, etc..

      Why don't they make the plane out of the same material as the black boxes? Problem solved. You can now use the iPod for your music and videos.
      • by CokeBear ( 16811 )
        Someone always asks this question, and I know its not meant to be answered, but I will anyway.

        The reason they don't make the whole plane out of the same material as the black box is that if they did, it would be way to heavy to ever get off the ground (and if it did, it would use so much fuel that a plane ticket would cost 10 times as much).

        Also, in a plane crash, its not the plane breaking apart that usually causes the deaths, its that sudden stop when the plane hits the ground that gets you, and the heat
    • Should use these... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bazman ( 4849 )

      The Monolith [] mp3 player. Described as 'bomb-proof'. It can also be run over by a car.

      • by plumby ( 179557 )
        The Gadget Show in the UK tested one of these against an iPod with a rugged case (can't remember which one) last week. Tests included encasing them in cement and using a pneumatic drill to get them out, and using a car crusher on them.

        The iPod won.
        • by Bazman ( 4849 )
          The iPod fell out of the car! Suzy Perry is no good with gaffer tape. I'd love to show her how to use it properly...

    • But think about all the great Black Box recordings that will be available on iTunes for everyone to listen to. I see the RIAA getting their mits in on this.
    • Really, that's looking a gift horse in the mouth. There is no regulatory requirement for flight data recorders on small aircraft. For the most part, the NTSB guys do a great job of analyzing needle positions, light filaments, structural deformation, etc. to determine the causes of crashes and get a good idea of the parameters the airplane was operating under when it went in.

      However, the new generation of small planes now includes glass cockpits and carbon-fibre materials. They make accident investigation
  • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @03:53AM (#18204376) Homepage
    A commercial airliner has crashed killing all 182 passengers on board as well as 8 flight crew. Investigators have recovered 191 flight recorders.
    • Investigators have recovered 191 flight recorders...
      ...and one Zune which, given its color, indicates victims may have suffered a fiery descent.
  • by tymbow ( 725036 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @03:58AM (#18204412)
    I don't think they mean to replace the "blackbox" as most people understand it. It is accurately described in TFA as a Personal Flight Recorder. As a (recreational) pilot I can imagine a number of situations where it would be useful to be able to record basic flight data such as altitidue, speed, ground track etc. to look at after a flight.
    • I thought about that as well - a friend of mine is a glider fanatic, and uses an iPaq hooked to a GPS to record in-flight data. When he gets back, he has some really nifty software to overlay the flight path on various maps, and do all sorts of calculations for him.

      But, the article says that it will serve as a "digital data recorder, nicknamed 'black boxes' by the general media." That gives me the impression that they really do want this to be the plane's main black box.

      Now that I think about it, though,
    • by rvw ( 755107 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @07:10AM (#18205190)

      I don't think they mean to replace the "blackbox" as most people understand it. It is accurately described in TFA as a Personal Flight Recorder. As a (recreational) pilot I can imagine a number of situations where it would be useful to be able to record basic flight data such as altitidue, speed, ground track etc. to look at after a flight.
      Another thing is that most small airplanes with propeller engines crash at much lower speeds, leaving the plane a lot more intact than the crashes we see on the news. The ipod would therefor have a much bigger chance of surviving a crash.
  • by iliketrash ( 624051 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:00AM (#18204418)
    This brings a whole new meaning to a "disk crash."
  • And then! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Konster ( 252488 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:01AM (#18204422)
    Flight International is doing a similar thing, but with the Zune, it crashes before the plane does!
    • But the good thing is it can squirt the fact that you're crashing to all other Zune-enable aircraft in the vicinity so that they can get the hell out of your way :-)
    • by temojen ( 678985 )
      In California, Plane recovered after flight data recorder crash. In Soviet Russia, flight data recorder recovered after plane crash!
  • by WarwickRyan ( 780794 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:03AM (#18204432) they are virtually indestructable.

    Mine has been dropped, smashed, been through both washing machine and dryer. All with no noticable damage and no dataloss.

    My HDD recorder, on the other hand, was destroyed by a small amount of coca cola :(
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cheater512 ( 783349 )
      My Lifedrive with its tiny compact flash hard drive has had some pretty spectacular falls.

      The most notable would be flying off a lecture room table and hitting the floor two meters below.
      Still works perfectly.
    • Mine failed after an impact with one six year old girl while it was plugged into my computer. She ran past, knocked it, and the drive snapped in half.
      Ok, probably the drive survived a bit, but the supporting hardware was shredded.

      how on earth did you get coke on a HDD?
      • The player was in my bag with a bottle of coke. Was in a rush to catch a plane (via a train) when I put the coke in the bag, and missed the fact that it wasn't tightly closed.

        The process of running to the train station stimulated the coke to the level that it exited its bottle and got friendly with my H340.

        Although only a small quantity of coke had escaped, it totalled the H340's hard drive :(
        • Note to self, don't do what you did :-)

          My ipod survived getting utterly soaked in a downpour, but I got it dry in time.
    • When it can resist being nuked from orbit, I'll be impressed.
  • They're going to be really disappointed when they find out what happens when you leave an iPod drive spinning all day.
  • FAA Regs (Score:2, Funny)

    by scatters ( 864681 )
    So, will they have to be turned off during the takeoff and landing phases of the flight per FAA AC 91.21. Seems like these are the most useful phases of the flight to record.
    I can just image it: "At this time the cabin crew would like to remind the flight crew to turn off the flight recorder. We'll let you know when we reach cruising altitide and it is safe to turn the device back on".

    Before anyone feels the need to inform me that Advisory Circulars are not the same as FAA regulations, I know already!
    • So, will they have to be turned off during the takeoff and landing phases of the flight per FAA AC 91.21. Seems like these are the most useful phases of the flight to record.

      That only applies to IFR flight. Even so, if the operator can determine that the device poses no interference hazard, they can exempt it.
      • by RMH101 ( 636144 )
        Doesn't the cost of certifying some electrical equipment kind of negate the cost benefit of using an iPod in the first place?
        • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )
          I believe in this case, it's essentially "at the pilot's discretion". (With certain limits - some stuff is considered safety-critical and must pass extensive certification, other stuff not necessarily so.)

          A general aviation pilot can even use non-aviation radio transmitters (There are a number of pilots who are also ham radio operators and have some VERY sophisticated multiband radio setups in their planes) in flight if they wish - they just take on legal liability for any negative effects of doing so.

  • Excellent Idea... (Score:5, Informative)

    by T-Bucket ( 823202 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:11AM (#18204468) Homepage
    Sounds like an awesome idea. Chances are it's going to be used more to record normal flight data than for crash investigation. They're not aiming it at airliners. Most small single-engine piston airplanes are simple enough that the reason for the crash can be easily discerned from the wreckage. There aren't 300 redundant systems to go through. It's usually a case of "Hey, look, that piston is poking out through the engine block." or "Hmm, the 100 hour private pilot ran off the runway into a ditch trying to land in a 30kt crosswind". What it'll really be useful for is stuff like engine monitoring and whatnot. One of these reviewed by your mechanic at annual could make his job a LOT easier...
    • Can this information be used for aircraft maintenance? It seems using a non-certified device to record data that will be used to perform service would open a repair center to a lawsuit. How can you be assured that the data is correct? It seems the only application would be to record your flight profile for playback in flightsim.
    • Sounds more like a stupid idea. There is such a thing as using the right tool for the job. There is nothing to see here but some 'gee whiz i did it because i could' geek factor.
  • What developers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ptur ( 866963 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:21AM (#18204506)

    'thousands of developers passionate about writing applications for the iPod.'
    What developers? At Apple? Or will PortalPlayer *finally* publish its datasheets so others can write code for it too?
    • Maybe it means the iPod Linux developers? Apple doesn't seem too keen on giving out an SDK for the iPod.

      I don't know what it takes to get it so information can show up in the UI, but I think this "recorder" may just be using the iPod as a mass storage device. The only easy way to get information to show up on the iPod without syncing is to save a note in a particular folder.
  • See (Score:4, Funny)

    by mastershake_phd ( 1050150 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:26AM (#18204526) Homepage
    Harrison Ford had it right, the Ipod can be used for data storage. Hollywood hacker movies are right again. One of these days someones going to hack the soon as they build the Gibson.
  • by heroine ( 1220 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:38AM (#18204592) Homepage
    Gumstix is a popular flight data recorder for models because it contains the highest computing power in the smallest space, but it's expensive. So could the cheapest $80 iPod be used as a Gumstix replacement? Can a $50 non-iPod mp3 player be used as an embedded computer or does it have to be iPod?
    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )
      It hasn't so much to do with the MP3-player aspect of the iPod as with the fact that it can be reprogrammed for other purposes. 99% of other MP3 players are hardware-based; you can't reprogram them.
      • You can't do a hack of a lot of reprogramming of an ipod either, short of hacking it to remove the OS and install linux - and there are a million other embedded devices that do this better and cheaper.
  • Trouble (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrappedByMyself ( 861094 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:41AM (#18204602)
    Without fail, my iPod used to die on me every time I flew. 20 minutes into the flight and BAM the drive goes into wacky mode. The unit locks, heats up, makes a sickening grinding noise as the battery quickly drains.

    I finally fixed it by ripping the thing apart and re-seating the drive cable. But still...
  • by Aqua OS X ( 458522 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @04:57AM (#18204666)
    As much as I love my current iPod, I'm well aware that I have had several hard drives fail on me, and I have seen countless "geniuses" hold the tiny bricks up to their ear waiting for a telltale "" I hope these guys are using flash-based Nanos, because a number of their bigger siblings die from hanging out in a moving pants pocket. I'm not saying those tiny little hard drives a cursed, I'm simply saying that a 30gig iPod wouldn't be my first choice for something that was supposed to survive a plane crash without needing data recovery service.
  • by Hanners1979 ( 959741 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @05:15AM (#18204710) Homepage
    "Despite recovering the flight data recorder from the wreckage, the caush of the crash is yet to be established. It has been confirmed however that the pilot was a big Pink Floyd fan"
    • "Despite recovering the flight data recorder from the wreckage, the caush of the crash is yet to be established. It has been confirmed however that the pilot was a big Pink Floyd fan".

      Now Playing: Learning to Cr^H^H Fly.

      On an unrelated note, Apple announced a new/faster way to remove the battery from an iPod.
  • This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard - wanting to use a hard disk-based iPod as an FDR?!? The stupid things are unreliable enough as consumer devices! I'm regularly having to "tap" mine on the desk to get the hard disk going again after it's paused itself in the middle of a song - how's it going to fare in a high-vibration aircraft environment, with regular pressure and temperature changes to boot!?
  • It's kinda sad.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wellingj ( 1030460 )

    assuming proper protection, crash investigation.

    There are alot of people saying that this is stupid because their iPod
    breaks when it falls out of thier pocket. I would say RTFA but, if you can't
    bother to read the whole posting on /. it's kinda pointless to expect any
    kind of intelligent posting.
    Go on, -1 troll me. See if I give a fsck, I still call BS when I see it.
  • Even if they use flash-based iPod as opposed to hard drive-based one, it's still a very bad choice. You can have two flash cards with any interface recording flight data in parallel (pretending to be RAID1), in a continuous stream treating both cards as ring buffers, so each bit is overwritten once per cycle. Even with $15-20 modern flash cards you can get 1G before old data will be overwritten, and 100T (assuming that the cards are never changed) before 1/2 probability of an error. If we assume that black
  • I live at approx 7000' in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, and very frequently spend time over 10,000'. I've noticed that nearly everbody in our town has a cranky or dead ipod. When a strong Sierra storm rolls through, the lowered air pressure gives us an effective altitude of nearly 9000'. I've noticed a strong coorelation between blizzards here and dead drives an iPods. I spoke with a friend in Leadville, CO (12,500') and he claims they flat don't work at his altitude. Also many reports can
  • If they are going to use the HD versions, then they might as well not bother.

    I dont care what protective case you put it in, a 20000 feet drop is going to kill a mechincal hardddrive.
  • what about the car? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sjs132 ( 631745 )
    Ok, now a days, every car seems wired for iPod... Why not add that to the car features, a car crash data recorder (ok, shhh... We have it built in already... I know... I know...)

    • (OT) No... every car *claims* to be wired for ipod. What most of them mean by that is they have an aux port on the stereo (the same one that has been on cars for 20 years).

  • Streaming Blackbox? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nbritton ( 823086 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @09:39AM (#18205970)
    Why not just have a live feed of the blackbox data streamed directly to the FAA?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 )

      Why not just have a live feed of the blackbox data streamed directly to the FAA?

      I suspect you don't know any better, which is why you asked the question.
      The short answer is that it would not be technologically feasible.

      The long answer:
      1. Each stream of data is going to need its own radio channel/cell connection/other
      2. The FAA is going to have to buy gobs of storage across the country & pay for it all to be managed
      3. Every private pilot is going to have to buy a new avionics package

      That's just off the t

  • I can just see the FAA plugging in to the iPod to see what the cause of the problem was...

    "Ground control to Major Tom... your circuit's dead... there's something wrong! Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom?"

  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Friday March 02, 2007 @10:17AM (#18206218)

    Won't the iPod disrupt the plane's flight electronics and CAUSE crashes, though? That's why the flight attendants always remind us that the use of portable electronic devices during takeoff and landing is forbidden, right?
  • I did a bunch of development back in 2002 to use an Archos Recorder for automotive data acquisition. It seemed like a fairly obvious application of a low cost platform and worked very well. And so no need to keep dragging the vaio out for harsh testing.
  • I can see the news report now:
    "NTSB crash investigators have been baffled as to the cause of the private plane crash that killed Steve Jobs and four others last week, but today they made a major breakthrough in their investigation. The crash investigators were initially stymied by the sequence of events leading up to the crash. Apparently, the initial confusion was resolved once they discovered the Crash.Events playback was set to shuffle."

    "In a related story, Conspiracy therorists are not buying the explanation. They say that they have proof that the flight data recorder shows the plane was in level flight after having slammed into the Mountain. They insist that this was a plot financed by former Microsoft President Bill Gates to 'send a message' that Microsoft is not to be trifled with."

    "Mr Gates was unavailable for comment as he was attending a conference on Aids in Africa."

    "To counter these claims, the NTSB has offered to share crash evidence with the general public, just as soon as they can figure out how to bypass the DRM features without running afoul of the DMCA."
  • Within 20 minutes of the plane going down, a dozen RIAA representatives, dressed in police-style raid jackets, were on site to offer their "assistance" to the FAA in locating the black box.

    "Since black boxes are, by definition, black, and current iPod Nanos only come in black on the 8GB model, we knew we would have a lot of data to comb through." remarked the lead RIAA investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We located the device, and analyzed it. Among the contents, we found Dave Matthew's '

  • Will Apple insist on it have their DRM licensing and only allow the data to be accessed by iBlackBox software?
  • I was on a program that built flash based flight recorders. Far from trivial. The problem is even if you use flash, the wirebonding on the chips rip off at high impact. Doing things right involves minimizing the mass of the survivable component and then putting it in a lot of squishy insulating nonflammable material, and then putting that in a titanium box, and then putting that in more squishy insulating nonflammable material. If you think an iPod could handle that put it in a standard paper envelope and p

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.