Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Enhanced autopilot system could help prevent accidents like 2009 Air France 447 crash

Date:
April 1, 2014
Source:
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
Summary:
Thirty lines of computer code might have saved Air France flight 447, and 228 passengers and crew aboard, from plunging into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, according to new research. Scientists have now developed a computer system that detects and corrects faulty airspeed readings, such as those that contributed to the AF447 crash. Their approach to detecting errors could be applicable in many systems that rely on sensor readings.

Pitot tube from an Airbus A380.
Credit: GNU Free Documentation License; 2007 David Monniaux

Thirty lines of computer code might have saved Air France flight 447, and 228 passengers and crew aboard, from plunging into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, according to new research by Carlos Varela, an associate professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Varela and his research group have developed a computer system that detects and corrects faulty airspeed readings, such as those that contributed to the AF447 crash. Their approach to detecting errors could be applicable in many systems that rely on sensor readings.

"During this flight, important sensors failed, and reported erroneous data. But the autopilot didn't know that, and it acted as if the data were correct," said Varela. "We have computers that can beat the best human Jeopardy! players, and yet we rely on these relatively weak autopilot systems to safeguard hundreds of people on each flight. Why don't we add more intelligence to autopilot systems?"

Varela's research, aimed at developing "active data," was funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under the Dynamic Data Driven Application Systems (DDDAS) program. The goal of the grant is to develop mathematical and programming elements that enable otherwise passive data systems to search for patterns and relationships, and discover knowledge in data streams. Varela, who is himself a pilot, recognized that robust "active data" systems could have prevented the crash of flight AF447. Shigeru Imai, a computer science graduate student, originally presented their research and results at the 2nd International Conference Big Data Science and Engineering in December 2013.

AF447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean more than 400 miles off Brazil's northeastern coast. When recovered, the "black box" flight recorders revealed a chain of events beginning with erroneous readings from the pitot tubes -- instruments that use air pressure to calculate airspeed. The pitot tubes, presumably blocked by ice, reported a drop in airspeed from 461 to 182 knots. The autopilot, unaware of the error, lowered the nose of the airplane in an attempt to increase airspeed. Unable to maintain altitude, the autopilot disengaged, at which point three human pilots were not able to correct for the error.

Varela and his research group focused on failure of the airspeed sensors. In the event of a pitot tube failure, airspeed can be accurately calculated using groundspeed and wind speed data gathered from onboard instruments that monitor GPS satellites, and weather forecasting information obtained prior to the flight. The relationship between the three data streams provided the group with an opportunity.

"If we can capture the mathematical relationship between the data streams, we can look at the patterns that arise upon known failures, which we call 'error signatures,'" Varela said. "Then we can say 'oh, this anomaly in the data corresponds to a known hardware failure. We know what is happening.'"

The group created a programming language called the "ProgrammIng Language for spatiO-Temporal data Streaming applications," or "PILOTS," and used it to write a program that examines the three data streams and searches for an error signature. If a signature is detected, the system corrects the error using data from the other two streams. In test runs, the PILOTS program -- which uses about 30 lines of high-level code to govern a constant analysis of the data -- prevented the AF 447 crash.

"We put the data from the black box of this Air France flight in our model, and in five seconds we were able to detect that the pitot tubes had iced, and we were able to compute the correct airspeed," said Varela. "During the actual flight, the pitot tubes were only iced for 40 seconds, but by the time they were functioning properly again, the plane was descending at about 10,000 feet per minute."

Varela said the approach has many other applications. In the context of autopilot systems, Varela said active data could potentially prevent errors like those behind the 2005 crash of Tuninter Flight 1153, in which pilots trusted a faulty fuel indicator, and could aid pilots in situations like the 2009 controlled ditch of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River.

Varela said the concept could also be helpful in other applications that rely on sensors, such as healthcare, where sensors used to collect data from patients could detect early signs of seizures or heart attacks based on patterns in the data.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). "Enhanced autopilot system could help prevent accidents like 2009 Air France 447 crash." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140401122326.htm>.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). (2014, April 1). Enhanced autopilot system could help prevent accidents like 2009 Air France 447 crash. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140401122326.htm
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). "Enhanced autopilot system could help prevent accidents like 2009 Air France 447 crash." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140401122326.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Computers & Math News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) MIT researchers developed a light-based sensor that gives robots 100 times the sensitivity of a human finger, allowing for "unprecedented dexterity." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To Protect Your Data In The Still-Vulnerable iOS 8

How To Protect Your Data In The Still-Vulnerable iOS 8

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) One security researcher says despite Apple's efforts to increase security in iOS 8, it's still vulnerable to law enforcement data-transfer techniques. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Much Privacy Protection Will Google's Android L Provide?

How Much Privacy Protection Will Google's Android L Provide?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) Google's local encryption will make it harder for law enforcement or malicious actors to access the contents of devices running Android L. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

Virtual Reality Headsets Unveiled at Tokyo Game Show

AFP (Sep. 18, 2014) Several companies unveiled virtual reality headsets at the Tokyo Game Show, Asia's largest digital entertainment exhibition. Duration: 00:48 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins