French air investigators were urgently examining a black box cockpit voice recorder (CVR) from a Germanwings Airbus A320 as the retrieval effort resumed on the mountainside where the aircraft crashed in the southern Alps, killing all 150 people on board.
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As the CVR was being analysed, Pierre-Henri Brandet, a spokesman for the French interior ministry in Seyne-les-Alpes, announced the suspension of the retrieval effort over Tuesday night including the search for a second black box on the isolated, rocky site.
Every time I see a story like this, I wonder the same thing: Why in the world do they keep relying on these black boxes, keeping all the information gathered on the plane where there is every chance it will be lost, instead of having it sent to a remote location, where it will be retrievable no matter what happens to the plane?
So I googled "Why do planes still use black boxes?" and this, from wired.com, was the top one on the list, from 2011, so others have been wondering the same thing.
The fact that the black box and cockpit voice recorders must be physically retrieved and the data downloaded seems positively archaic in an era when we all have GPS in our pocket, OnStar in our cars and the NSA can track anyone, anywhere. Indeed, the technology exists to render black boxes obsolete, and the question of why we aren’t using it came to the fore after Air France Flight 447 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.
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The Iridium network, which covers the entire globe with 66 orbiting satellites, could probably accommodate the bandwidth needed to transmit at least the 88 required parameters from the 8,000 or so commercial flights in operation at any moment. Krishna M. Kavi, a professor of computer science at the University of North Texas, estimates that the worldwide demand would be about 64 megabits per second, only a portion of which would have to be sent by satellite. Using different assumptions, Seymour Levine, an inventor who has devised his own telemetry, estimates the maximum bandwidth requirement at 25 Mbps and the total storage requirement for a day’s worth of data at 100 gigabytes—a quarter the speed of a fast broadband connection and less disk space than an iPod classic.
This data, aggregated terrestrially instead of scattered among thousands of black boxes constantly flying around the world, would inevitably call forth other uses.
The technology is there, so use it, for God's sake! I mean this isn't even like keeping your pager when everybody else has a cell phone or hanging on to the FAX machine instead of using the computer. It's more like still relying on the telegraph.