Will Malaysia Airlines MH370 Trigger Next Generation of M2M Technology in Airplanes?

By Rachel Ramsey March 11, 2014

The Bermuda Triangle and the TV show Lost are homes to missing planes and mysterious disappearances. But in today’s world, where we can look at houses across the world on Google Maps and track a smartphone just from a simple mobile application, the question ringing in many minds is, “How can you lose an airplane?”

This weekend, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members and without any hint of a distress call. The search for the Boeing 777 has been expanded over the past few days, as authorities are stumped by the mysterious disappearance. Malaysian police authorities were looking at four possible scenarios: hijacking, sabotage, psychological problems among passengers or staff, or personal problems.

With GPS, satellite, and tracking technology available today, people are trying to answer the question of how a Boeing 777 could simply vanish without a trace.

Adam Tinworth from NEXT Berlin wrote an article begging the same question. “It seems almost unbelievable that in the early 21st century, we could just lose a commercial airliner,” he wrote. “For digital technology to truly become the new normal, we need to move beyond this ‘toy’ stage of thinking of connectivity. Phone and apps are great – they are quite genuinely changing life around us right now. But they’re not the end state of this process we’re going through. Unless we can start applying this thinking to the world around us more pervasively, we’re not really exploring its full potential.”

This “toy” stage of thinking Tinworth refers to is largely pointed at the Internet of Things – this growing trend of everyday things, appliances and systems becoming connected to the Internet. It seems almost every week there is a new car with connectivity, a new wearable device or a new home automation product. His point is that we should be obsessing about how this kind of technology can protect people and provide reliable information, in addition to bringing entertainment systems to a car or automation to our home media centers.

To be fair, the IoT has not just been all about “tweeting toasters,” connected infotainment systems and wearable technology. Smart thermostats mean alerting homeowners when their homes or their loved ones may be in danger, smart cities mean more efficient emergency responders and facial recognition technology means not just personalized, targeted advertising, but enhanced security systems.

Satellite networks also take the IoT from the consumer level to more industrial, mission-critical use cases, providing data communication and remote monitoring and control services for homeland security and marine applications. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses machine to machine (M2M) technology in other applications as well, such as security software. Search and rescue can also use M2M technology to locate missing people in remote locations and disasters, like avalanches or floods. This technology is built for robust, rugged weather conditions for purposes like these. Remember the introduction of Amazon Prime Air, the real-time delivery drone? Search and rescue can use the same type of technology, but use it to deliver food, water and other emergency materials.

M2M technology has already been implemented in planes, such as solutions for airline inspectors to check inventory and maintain equipment for security and passengers. However, the news of MH370 begs the question of what will happen in the future. How can we ensure planes just don’t disappear? The answer lies in more advanced tracking, monitoring, and location-based solutions.

Radar coverage does not always include over water – pilots are usually required to radio in their positions at fixed intervals, and there are also automatic systems that send out data on engine performance to maintenance base, not air traffic control. When Air France flight 447 disappeared in 2009, the airline used that data to try and help determine what happened. Malaysia Airlines investigators may be doing the same.

Beijing is deploying about 10 satellites in hopes of finding the plane. The high-resolution satellites, which are controlled from the Xian Satellite Control Center in northern China, will be relieved of other tasks in order to focus on weather monitoring, communication, and search operations to find the missing plane.

The fact that two passengers on MH370 were using stolen passports is an issue in and of itself. Technology should enable airport staff to identify stolen passports or false identities. Sure, airport security technology has definitely become more advanced over the years, but it needs to keep up with the hackers, criminals, and terrorists that seem to always be one step ahead.

Image via The Drum

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Content Director

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