Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Fly-by-Wireless Plane Takes to the Sky 376

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the dropped-connection-a-real-bummer dept.
galactic_grub writes to tell us that engineers in Portugal have built and flown a plane with no wires or mechanical connections between the major systems, only a wireless network. From the article: "Tests flights carried out in Portugal have shown that the system works well. Cristina Santos, at Minho University in Portugal, who developed the plane, says the aim is primarily to reduce weight and power requirements. 'Also, if you do not have the cables then the system is much more flexible to changes,' she says."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Fly-by-Wireless Plane Takes to the Sky

Comments Filter:
  • Holy Crap! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:12PM (#15343888) Homepage Journal
    Goddamn it! A 'wireless' plane! My first thought was why the hell would you want to do that? First thing I decided after 802.11 got cheap was "wireless for convenience, wired where it matters". The following quote from TFA clued me in however:
    the aim is primarily to reduce weight and power requirements. "Also, if you do not have the cables then the system is much more flexible to changes," she says.
    I tell you what ladies & gents - this is one plane where I'd take notice when told to switch my cell phone off!

    PS - I note the next story on the front page is "IT: Wireless Security Attacks and Defenses." Coincidence? I think not ;-)
    • Re:Holy Crap! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by FST777 (913657)
      how the heck does one reduce power requirements by, say, replace Cat5 with 802.11?!? I'm wondering about the weight too...
      • There are many hundreds of metres of wiring in a given plane, say a A300 or 757, and that adds up to a LOT of weight. The theory is you replace these end-to-end wiring runs with the wireless transmitters.
        • I would be much more comfortable with 2 fiber links, physically seperated, and maybe wireless as a last resort backup. The weight savings would still be huge, but wireless sounds very scary
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:16PM (#15343920)

      A 'wireless' plane! My first thought was why the hell would you want to do that?

      Do you have any idea how hard it is to hang the CAT5 all the way up there in the sky?

    • Composites (Score:4, Insightful)

      by everphilski (877346) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:17PM (#15343928) Journal
      Composites are the future, Boeing's dreamliner and whatever Airbus's new airliner is are being made of more and more composites. Composites are strong, but composites are very flexible. They don't lend themselves well to control wires although cabling is acceptable if you have slack (which adds weight)... but movement is never a good thing so wireless kinda makes sense if you can make it fault-toloerant.

      • Not only fault tolerant but fast. I don't want to fly a plane that's experiencing lag and turbulence at the same time.

        And not only fast, but reliably fast. If there *is* lag, the pilot shouldn't have to guess and hope that it'll be a particular delay. And there should be the same lag for every system.

        There probably aren't any power savings, and it almost certainly costs a fair bit more--and still will even if the elements were produced in equal abundance--so the only benefit I really see is that you can sti
        • Yeah, the lag would have to be on the order of milliseconds. You have to remember current aircraft have lags too ... you are adding another lag. My concern would be drops in the system. This can be countered by a little bit of intelligence. If you are sending with your packets your current airspeed, position, and orientation you can have a chip on the other end that detects dropouts and can calculate (during a dropout) a "smooth" maneuver to put the aircraft in a statically stable position. For example say
      • Re:Composites (Score:3, Insightful)

        by t0qer (230538)
        Kinda cool you mentioning composites, it allows me to segway into a little known fact about them.

        I fly RC airplanes, on the net I hang out at rcgroups.com, wattflyer.com, and just generally browse here and there for info.

        I'm a little lazy to look it up ATM, but one of the things folks that build rc planes use is carbon fiber rods to stiffen the wings. One of the drawbacks to CF though is it blocks RF. So when you're running your antenna wire, it's best to run it as far away from your CF rod as possible to
        • Re:Composites (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          One would presume that if the spacial relationship between components of you aircaft changes losing wireless signaling between them is the least of your problems. i.e. in an RC plane it is a problem becasue the transmitter stays in one place while the reciever moves. In this place teh transmitter and recievers are all fixed to the plane. Either you have a signal, or the plane is breaking up. The geometrical relationship between the cockpit, wings, and tail are fixed.
        • Re:Composites (Score:2, Interesting)

          by modecx (130548)
          Not only that, but modest RF signals around carbon fiber can induce electrical currents that can cause galvanic corrosion on metals that might be in contact with the carbon fiber. Carbon fiber and Aluminum do not play together nicely, most especially, and I hear that it's not too friendly on Titanium. It's a Good Thing there are special primers that solve that problem. There have been a few accidents with bicycles constructed with carbon fiber and aluminum, where the joint between the two erodes to the p
      • Re:Composites (Score:3, Informative)

        by sabre86 (730704)

        Composites are strong, but composites are very flexible. They don't lend themselves well to control wires although cabling is acceptable if you have slack (which adds weight)... but movement is never a good thing

        This is simply incorrect for a couple of reasons. Whether or not composites are strong or stiff depends on the material -- composites like carbon fiber are both very strong and stiff (compared to say aluminum or steel) while composites like kevlar are less stiff but still quite strong. But a com

    • Not to mention the system is based on bluetooth- you could take one of these planes out of the sky with a good bluetooth rifle and fly it into whatever you wanted...if you think the 9-11 hijackers were bold, wait until you see what happens when they can hijack a plane from a half a mile away without even boarding the plane.
      • Except that a terrorist would need the plane to send data that far too, in order for a connection to form. Beyond that, they would need to know the bluetooth address. All this is assuming that the wireless won't be encrypted, which would be so obvious that not even the most idiotic engineer in the world couldn't point that out.
        • A bluetooth rifle uses a high gain antenna for bi-directional comunications. I have seen 802.11b established over several miles through a metalic glass barrier that stopped a laptop at 30 feet. All it required was a 32DB antenna at one end, and careful aim
        • Except that a terrorist would need the plane to send data that far too, in order for a connection to form.

          Not neccessarily- 32DB antennas on bluetooth rifles have been shown to be able to snarf cell phone connections at as much as a mile even without an amplifier. A good antenna works both ways- both picks up the (much) fainter signal of the target, and sends at a higher amplitude so as to make the target think the hacker is local.

          Beyond that, they would need to know the bluetooth address.

          Snarf enoug
    • It's fairly obvious that outside (or inside, from a cell-phone or laptop) would be a concern. For this to become practical, we'll obviously need a bit more research to find ways of electronically isolating the plane's controls from both the outside and the cabin. This doesn't seem like much of a technical challenge, of course, given that most commercial planes have a double metallic hull. But making the double hull into a good waveguide (or at least a Faraday cage), and sealing all the holes will take qu
    • Am I the only one here who's starting to think Amtrak is a really good deal?
  • by DougLorenz (964249) * on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:12PM (#15343891)
    Does an optical cable REALLY weigh that much that someone would want to replace it with wireless? This goes for any situation where functionality is considered to be important. I have a wireless network at home, but I've also run gigabit ethernet through the entire house. The wireless goes down from time to time, but the hard cable does not. The article talks about two benefits, weight reduction and power reduction. In both situations, I would expect that a single lightweight fiber connection and some LED lasers would not be significantly heaver, and would likely use a good deal less power... It just seems to me that the whole idea is little more than academic. I can't think of a single situation where it would be more desirable for a device like an automobile or an airplane to use a wireless system for communicating control information. Someone's got way too much free time on his hands...
    • This sounds purely academic at this point. Control information really has to be as resistant to interference as possible. In fact, I don't even think drive by wire systems have been approved for braking or steering in cars yet. They all have to have a direct link in case the power assist features fail.

      They are right about adding flexibility, but safety is going to trump that one pretty hard every time.
      • by jc42 (318812)
        I don't even think drive by wire systems have been approved for braking or steering in cars yet. They all have to have a direct link in case the power assist features fail.

        A weekend news story here in New England brought out the importance of this in aircraft: It seems that Senator Ted Kennedy was flying back from a speaking engagement in western Massachusetts, when the plane (a 6-seater) was hit by lightning. It knocked out the plane's electronics. The pilot safely landed it at an airport near Hartford,
        • It's my understanding that planes get hit by lightning all the time and are largely uneffected
          by it. Something about charge staying on the outside of a conductor (wonder what happens to the
          airplane if it doesn't have a conductive outer shell?).
        • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @03:34PM (#15344463)
          Pretty darn resistant to lightning, actually. A lot of designing goes into making sure that critical systems remain functional and that nothing carries an excessive current in the event of a lightning strike, which happens a lot more frequently than most passengers probably realize. During the 80's NASA did a very extensive investigation into the effects of lightning on airplanes. Some of the test pilots involved had their planes hit hundreds of times while deliberately flying through the most active parts of the storms. A source I just googled up says the average passenger plane gets hit once a year. According to another source the last commercial airline accident attributed to lightning was in 1967, which was due to a fuel tank explosion, not a control outage.

          Old style plane controls were based on either cables (not suitable for larger aircraft) run from the pilot's controls (yoke, pedals, throttle) to the control surface or else on hydraulics. In the latter, there are hydraulic valves actuated by the pilot, and the pressure is transferred via hose from the pump to the valves to hydraulic cylinders or motors that move the control surfaces. Anyone who is familiar with hydraulics knows how heavy those components are. Fly-by-wire eliminates the direct link, allowing much shorter hydraulic routing, replacing hoses with pumps at the point of use, or even replacing hydraulics with electrical actuators. All the components are surge protected and wiring is typically triple redundant.

          I believe there are three dangers presented to airplanes by lightning: interference, stray currents, and energy dissipation. Interference can be dealt with by minimizing the opportunity to pick up signals (the 777 for example uses fiber optics instead of wires) and signal processing. Stray currents, which can damage componenets, are handled by isolating the electrical systems from the structure and using surge protectors. By energy dissipation I mean resistive heating of the airframe. This normally isn't a problem with aluminum airframes/skins, because the bolt passes straight through the plane with little trouble. With composite fuselages like on the A380, there is typically a safe path designed into the system for the same purpose. Otherwise a bolt might find a relatively small current path and overwhelm it, heating it so fast it could actually vaporize violently (a somewhat more technical way of saying it explodes).
    • A quick google says a 747-400 has 171 miles of wiring. While some of that is likely not replaceable (power distribution, etc...)-- a good chunk is almost certainly control wiring. Let's make a wild guess and say that just 1/10 of that is control wiring, since those wires are likely thinner than the power lines, even if they are more numerous.

      It's hard to imagine 17 miles of anything, even tiny glass fibers, not weighing quite a bit. Anybody have real numbers on this, or the quantity of wire that could be
    • You may think of an optical fibre as just the glass or plastic part that carries the light, but any cable that is going to be used in a real world situation will also have cladding etc.

      I just found this brochure that shows all the layers on a cable (its a PDF)

      Aerospace grade optical fibre [tensolite.com]

      And that gives a weight of 4.5 kg/km (which is much lower than I expected). Now all I need is the number of km's or cable per typical aircraft!
    • by Greyfox (87712) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:33PM (#15344038) Homepage Journal
      According to this [boeing.com], a 737 contains 36 miles of electrical wire. So it probably would be a fairly significant weight savings. I woudn't want to put my life on the line on that airplane though, at least not until they can demonstate that the safety is the same or better than a conventional one. Give that the FAA implies that a passenger accidentally leaving his cell phone on is enough to make a conventional one go slamming into the ground in a firey ball of death, I'm not sure it's as difficult as it sounds...
      • Redundant FDDI perhaps? Reduce the weight, but still have a non-interferable network. This smacks of a PR stunt rather than a realistic approach to airplane systems.
      • Give that the FAA implies that a passenger accidentally leaving his cell phone on is enough to make a conventional one go slamming into the ground in a firey ball of death,
        That's because the terrorists can only receive instructions on how to fly the plane over cellphones while in the air. If they have to turn their phone off, their buddies on the ground can't tell them to turn the wheel and press that pedal to run into the big building over there.
      • Of course, but if you can shield the baggage areas and cabin from wireless interference, then all is well.
        Within an isolated and predictable area, there's no issue... probably is will they do that?
        -M
    • The paint on a commercial airliner weighs thousands of pounds, all of which much be lifted via jet fuel that is costing more and more each day. Yes, removing even a few hundred pounds of cabling from a fleet of a few hundred planes that burn through expensive fossil fuels while making thousands of flights each per year is highly desireable.
    • by ottawanker (597020) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @03:01PM (#15344207) Homepage
      But think of the benefits, this way you can still control the flaps in the wing, even after the wing has broken off!
    • by TopSpin (753) *
      Does an optical cable REALLY weigh that much that someone would want to replace it with wireless?

      Yes, a signal cable in an aircraft really does weigh 'that much'. A signal cable must be protected; fuel, weather and physical damage are all problems for signaling mediums in aircraft. Solution? Conduits, seals and other bulk. The armor needed to protect cables (optical or otherwise) is substantial; a length of fiber optic cable may not simply rattle around in the fuselage or wing like it might in your prem
  • Such wireless links could be susceptible to electromagnetic interference or even jamming, Mellor suggests. And it could be more difficult to build in back-up wireless connections, he says. "If you jam one link you would jam both," he warns.

    That's also my concern. A high powered transmitter is a lot easier to attack a plane with than a shoulder mounted rocket. (Which simply doesn't have the same range as a high powered transmitter.) A truck with a few generators in series would make for an excellent jamming platform.

    There's also the concern of an onboard terrorist using implementation flaws to hack the airplane. The crew would have a deuce of a time trying to understand why they're locked out of their controls.

    Some planes, such as the Boeing 777 even use optical fibres, which can carry multiple signals through a single cable.

    IMNO, this makes a lot more sense. Optical busses between the necessary components are fast, lightweight, and easy to install. I can't see wireless saving more than a few kilograms over fibre connections.

    That being said, in-flight entertainment systems might save weight if they weren't wired up. Running fibre for such systems results in a lot of unnecessary wiring and weight. Since the entertainment system is effectively a low-security system, airplane makers can feel free to use these linkages as long as the control systems remain wired.

    She also admits that stringent aviation regulations may mean the technology first appears in cars rather than planes.

    That makes even less sense. AFAIK, the horrid nests of wires that previously ran all of a car's electronics have been replaced by more standardized busses. The remaining wiring merely hooks a cars features into the power system. Unless I missed something, Bluetooth can not wirelessly provide power to accessories. Which means that they can't replace the wiring in cars anyway.

    Hopefully we'll see this technology help with UAVs and other super-light aircraft. But I have no desire to fly on a plane that has its key systems hooked up through a technology that can be potentially interfered with by the cellphones the passengers are carrying.
    • There's also the concern of an onboard terrorist using implementation flaws to hack the airplane. The crew would have a deuce of a time trying to understand why they're locked out of their controls.

      Or the pointy-haired boss trying to land the plane using the Excel Flight Simulator...
    • Two points (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd (1658)
      First, anyone planning on a high-definition in-flight entertainment system over Bluetooth would have to be nucking futs.

      Secondly, if it's used for navigation & engines, it's susceptible to remote hijacks - the Bluetooth "gun" featured on Slashdot before can blast Bluetooth signals over a mile and Bluetooth devices are forever being cracked due to poor security, including poor security of the protocol.

      I agree that the cabling in modern planes is excessive and heavy. If we were talking about one optic fib

      • First, anyone planning on a high-definition in-flight entertainment system over Bluetooth would have to be nucking futs.

        1. Why would it have to be hi-def? We're talking about seat-back TV Screens. Transmitted anything higher than 640x480 stereo is a waste of bandwidth.

        2. Assuming they can get FAA approval, they could use higher bandwidth devices like WIFI. Perhaps even on normally disallowed channels. (Since the plane won't be interfering with nearby radio devices.)

        If we were talking about one optic fibre,
    • I can build a wifi/bluetooth interference generator with less than a ten dollar's worth of parts. It would be very short range, to be sure, but if it will work in a movie theater, it will work in an airplane. I don't think terrorists are going to be too concerned about following FCC rules...
  • Say what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) * on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:13PM (#15343893)

    The developer says:

    ...the system would need extensive testing before she would be willing to ride in a fly-by-wireless plane.

    I think that qualifies for understatement of the year.

    Indiscriminate jamming isn't difficult. I used to hang out with a ham operator so old he had a 4-digit license. The guy had leydon jars made from all manner of old glass containers. He used to cackle with glee after applying the juice for a half-minute or so, then brag about how he had knocked out every TV and radio within a mile. I don't know about the range, but he sure managed to kill the TV and radio in his house by doing that. The point is that relying on wireless anything to stand between me and a flying machine suddenly dropping out of the sky strikes me (bad pun, I know) as a tad foolish.

    Now, for deployment of cheaper, small drones in war zones against unsophisticated opponents, this might be a good strategy for making things more affordable. But for anything we might conceive of, today, as an "airplane," I just don't see it. I hope they get the problems worked out. That's what research is for and some really neat things might result. But my first reaction is pretty negative; it's just a weird idea. And it's posted right above a story on "Wireless Security Attacks and Defenses," fer Chrissakes!

    Am I being too shortsighted, here?

  • Security concerns (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crow (16139) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:14PM (#15343896) Homepage Journal
    Obviously the first thing they need to address is the possibility of a passenger hacking their wireless network and taking control of the plane. Or simply jamming the system to crash the plane.

    Securing the network should be doable, but preventing jamming may be the problem that prevents this from becoming a real system.
  • Now the terrorists can sit on the ground and hijack the plane with an override signal. I hope they're using something better than WEP for encryption.
    • Hijack a plane using Bluetooth? From the ground? Let me get this straight:

      You think you can hijack a plane cruising aroung 30,000ft that's using bluetooth, by jamming it's signal from the ground. When bluetooth has a range of - to understand - significantly less than that.

      There's a lot of potential problems with using wireless as control system, but jamming from the ground is most certainly not one of them!
  • no thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yagu (721525) * <yayaguNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:14PM (#15343903) Journal
    no thanks

    Considering that every RF technology I've ever worked with has been imperfect, I'd hesitate to ride (or even fly) a wireless network controlled plane.

    Here are some of the wireless technologies I know:

    • XM radio... Great stuff, love what it offers, but I've NEVER gone an entire day without some interruption of signa.
    • 811.x lan. Love having wireless LAN at home, but please please please don't turn on the microwave!
    • remote controlled anything (wireless). I've used wireless IR repeaters, I've had RF remote controlled devices, every single one of these devices exhibitied anomolous behavior at some point, and every single one showed anomolous behavior more than once!
    • satellite TV (see XM bullet above)
    • GPS. many many "disconnects" over the course of a day.
    • AM/FM radio/OTA TV signals, always susceptible to interference, multi-path (FM), lightning (AM), etc.
    • cell phones... don't get me started -- probably one of the most promising technologies beat to death by money-grubbing telcoms squeezing every bit of quality out of the transmission protocols and tower dispersal until it's mediocre technology.
    • cordless phones... if you've still got the 2.4Ghz phones, don't try talking on them while you're moving large data streams on your 811.X network... noise, noise, noise (not to mention the interference the other direction)
    • garage doors. It's not as bad these days, but our garage door would spontaneously open and close when aircraft were near.

    She states she is working on the reliability problem. I wonder if it's possible to solve (any EEs out there to chime in?). I used to work for a telcom, and they always had an interesting poster up describing what 99.99% accuracy meant. The most interesting representation: if commercial jets took off and landed at that rate of effieciency, there would be a failure every 10,000 landings/takeoffs. For the sake of simplifying, if there were 5,000 flights a day, that would be 10,000 landings plus takeoffs implying a statistical expectation of failure each day.

    I don't know to what level RF can be perfected without some backup system (also RF) that would guarantee perfection but if they ever start flying those suckers, I'm going to wait a while before I board one.

    • Not an EE but I can make one observation for you. One of the big things is every piece of equiptment you mention is operating in high-traffic bands. Lots of devices, mostly low power, competing for a small sliver of airspace. FAA-regulated aircraft concievably wouldn't have that problem, they could get a hunk of the airwaves carved out for them. In air you are far enough from disturbances, the concern is takeoffs and landings.
    • Re:no thanks (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Red Flayer (890720)
      "XM radio... Great stuff, love what it offers, but I've NEVER gone an entire day without some interruption of signa."

      Case in point, but I wasn't aware that you could post to slashdot using XM radio.

      "garage doors. It's not as bad these days, but our garage door would spontaneously open and close when aircraft were near."

      I suppose that's what you get when you live in an airport hangar :)

      Seriously, though, this is just a proof that it COULD be done, not that it should be. My feeling is that any cont
    • XM radio, GPS, Satellite TV

      All these are horrible examples to compare to the current idea. They all transmit over much greater distances then the transmission inside the airplane and have a multiple of other intereference issues that go above and beyond the normal RF interference you are going to get from anything in a closed space.

      802.11b/g (not 811.x) and Cordless Phones

      Well Duh! Use two devices operating in the same frequency and you will have issues. To point out something, 802.11a does not h
  • Oh COOL!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:16PM (#15343915)
    A WiFi card and a copy of MS Flight Simulator and YOU, yes YOU are in charge.

    BWAHAHAHAHA.

  • If you think this is a horrible idea. If I can access the carrier, then anybody can access the carrier, it's only a matter of time. Hell, with internet enabled planes, is it too far fetched to think about remotely hijacking a plane? No more suicide runs, no sir. Do it remotely from the safety of your own cave ( sorry, had to ).

    Quoteth the article
    Tests flights carried out in Portugal have shown that the system works well.


    Well ain't good enough. It has to be perfect. 100%. To the point where no one e
  • Great. Now how am I going to keep my cold pizza?

  • Improved durability (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crow (16139) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:18PM (#15343935) Homepage Journal
    This could be useful for combat aircraft, as you don't have to worry about losing control of a flap or other system because the cable was severed by enemy fire.

    Also, with combat aircraft, you might be able to shield the interior of the aircraft such that it would be immune to jamming. That might be necessary anyway to prevent signal leakage that might give away the aircraft's location, either defeating stealth advanatages or allowing for another type of weapons lock.
    • I think all your weight savings from the components would be lost to the shielding necessary to keep the plane flying through jamming and EMP

      If you want to eliminate wires and cables in a military craft then transmit over the internal structure of the plane, or even the skin of it. No need to broadcast anything, which could also give away your location.
    • by ohearn (969704)
      NO, if you want to make a military aircraft reliable you do it the way the A-10 did. Electrical systems for everything, backed up by hydraulic systems for everything in case of electrical failure, and then physical cables hooked to the controls incase the hydraulics were hit. Most pilots only had the physical strength to operate it via hard cable long enough for an emergency landing, but at least they had control. They didn't even rely on electronics for targeting, had marks in the cockpit where the pilo
      • No, the A-10 does not have electrical flight control actuators. It has two seperate hydraulic systems and a manual (wire and pulley) backup.

        The lack of an accurate bombing computer is NOT a feature, it was a cost saving measure. The reason it could be accurate is flies SLOW and had to fly at much lower altitudes... which is also why they were exposed to so much ground fire. It also is what limits the A-10 in this current world of near-precision cheap JDAMs. It doesn't have the electronics needed to inter
  • ...that the article just before this one is Wireless Security Attacks and Defenses [slashdot.org]

    Seriously, I would be worried about defending against intentional interference.

  • "This is your captain speaking. If you all look out the left side of the plane, you'll see the lovely San Fernando valley, which we are heading downward toward at increasing speed. Please tell the kid in row 12 to please switch off his Nintendo DS."
  • The article mentioned something about Bluetooth (it is not clear whether it is a simply a security comparison or an indication that it is the protocol used). Now hijackers can control a plane without entering the cockpit. I am guessing that all wireless devices (including laptops and phones) would have to be checked on a craft like this.
  • by Instine (963303) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:20PM (#15343956)
    but this is just plane silly!
  • In any real system there must be some type of common electrical bus or hydrolic system. This prototype system may use batteries at each physical element (the article isn't clear), but that is hardly weight saving.

    The article mentions that this technology might first appear in cars, but even entertainment system components are going to need to be powered. It really doesn't make much sense to add an expensive wireless transmitter and receivers to eliminate the need to run speaker cables and while it may be
    • even entertainment system components are going to need to be powered.

      Which raises the question, why not just superimpose an onboard data network over the power system, the same way BPL or those older home 2Mbit network-through-your-outlets systems worked? Then you only need a single wire running to every onboard device (assuming a frame ground).

      Fly-by-wireless indeed. Neither necessary nor desireable - A solution in need of a problem, nothing more.
  • Worst. Idea. Ever. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) <[slashdot.kadin] [at] [xoxy.net]> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:23PM (#15343972) Homepage Journal
    I really don't think that this is much of anything new. There's no reason why this couldn't have been done 20 years ago, or probably 50 years ago, had someone been sufficently motivated. You could do it with the same sort of PCM systems that are used in radio-controlled models, if all you wanted was controls.

    But there's a reason why nobody has done this, and I think that's because it just seems like a really bad idea. There's no safe failure mode for a system like this. If the controls stop working, bad things happen. The only safe way to work around the interference issues would be to have wired backup controls, and at that point you've made the wireless system redundant anyway, because it's only advantageous if you can eliminate the wires.

    A plane is always going to have some sort of mechanical connection between all of its parts (otherwise it wouldn't be a "plane," it would just be a collection of stuff moving in the same direction through the air), so I can't imagine that routing wires is really that difficult a proposition.

    The only interesting application that I can think of this is perhaps a "semi-wireless" system. If your plane has a lot of metallic parts, maybe you could use the body as a single control wire to tie everything together. You use RF modulators, but rather than transmitting through the air, you just couple the transmitting and receiving antennas directly to contiguous metallic parts on the plane. I think that most of the metal parts on planes are bonded together anyway, to prevent static buildup, to this might be practical. In this case, the signal from the transmitter also attached to the same piece of metal elsewhere in the plane would be so much stronger than the signal from an external transmitter, interference might not be quite so much of a problem.

    Still, I'm not sure I'd want to trust my life to it. I guess people probably said that about fly-by-wire originally, or by fly-by-hydraulic when it replaced steel cables, but there are generally good reasons why those transitions are made. I don't see a compelling reason for this.
    • by mandolin (7248)
      The only safe way to work around the interference issues would be to have wired backup controls, and at that point you've made the wireless system redundant anyway, because it's only advantageous if you can eliminate the wires.

      I thought most production wired systems had (triple?) redundancy. If you could replace at least some of the "backup" wires with a wireless system, you might still save some weight.

    • Great Idea (Score:2, Insightful)

      by _bug_ (112702)
      As a backup system, this would be a great idea. So if any leads get cut for whatever reason (explosion in cargo hold cuts lines to the elevators, for example) you'd still have some mechanism to maintain control. But I wouldn't rely on a solely wireless system.

      Of course if you have the kind of damage that would cut electrical lines, you'll probably have lost hydraulics as well which isn't going to be fixed with a wireless network.
  • ...will come when a terrorist simply runs some script from his modified PDA/cellphone effectively blocking all inter-plane communication. Check out the wiki on Bluetooth [wikipedia.org] for some glaring security issues already associated with bluetooth. What I'm curious about though is their supposed backup system. Are they going to end up installing old-fashioned wires as a backup and completely negate the weight savings of the bluetooth?
  • Security guard: Sir? Can you turn on your laptop please?
    Osama: Sure thing officer.
    *backtrack boots up*
    Security guard: That looks funny, what's that?
    Osama: Linux.
    Security guard: You must be a computer guy, huh?
    Osama: Yes sir.
    Security guard: Alright, well you have a good flight.

    Three hours later, a plane crashes due to a massive DOS attack against the systems controls.
  • an airplane that could only go 1500 feet from my house? Oh, wait....
  • by msauve (701917) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:28PM (#15344016)
    ...requirements?"

    You still need to distribute power to wherever it's needed to both power the device you're controlling and power the wireless equipment, you're only removing a piece of control cable and replacing it with the electronics necessary to implement wireless connectivity in a reliable, redundant manner. Seems that would increase power requirements, what power consumer is being removed? Or are they planning on putting heavy batteries at each control site?

    You could pick up the same weight savings (if any) by simply passing RF over the power cables (ala X-10, but made robust), and have more secure/robust communications than with wireless.

    This just seems like a dumb idea.

  • ..and serve genetically-engineered meals. They could use hydrogen fuel reserves, and use H1-B pilots.

    They could call it the FUDBus.

    Terrible idea from a marketing standpoint. "Look! Our planes are cheaper! The pilot can even control the plane from the toilet!"

    [I'm joking of course]
  • FTA: Even so, Santos says the system would need extensive testing before she would be willing to ride in a fly-by-wireless plane. She also admits that stringent aviation regulations may mean the technology first appears in cars rather than planes.

    "Cables are already a problem in cars," Santos says, because many manufacturers cram ever more electronic gadgetry into each new model.

    She admits the idea of having no physical connections may seem scary at first but believes ultimately it will become an acce

    • It was clearly a marketdroid of a PHB.

      Nobody with half a brain would want a wireless brake. A brake needs to be a *simple* device - if it fails you're dead. The same with the steering - we have powered steering now but that has a failsafe mode so if it fails it just becomes normal steering.

      If the wireless transmitter fails or gets jammed... no brakes or steering!
  • That right below an article where a PLANE is using Wireless ONLY controls, there is a nice article about Wireless Hacks.

    Hmm, was that planned? ;-)
  • Congradulations to Portugal!! I'm sure that this is a tremendous improvement over their previous, wired-aircraft, which always had that annoying issue once the cord reached it's length and suddenly snapped mid-air from the airport.

    Oh, THAT kind of wireless...gotcha.
  • A fly by wire system only requires a couple pounds of wire, can be easily rerouted for configuration changes, and doesn't have interferance issues.

    Any plane which would crash if you pointed an EMF jammer at it would not be a good thing.
  • The fine inventor should try to *think* before inventing. A few quibbles:
    • As many have noted, a loonball passanger with a D-Cell and a paper-clip can make enough sparks to block most radio signals. Crash.
    • The control wires are already really thin, not much weight or cost to be saved there.
    • Most actuators are either electrical or hydraulic. For either one you already need a relatively thick hydraulic tube or thick power wire. Adding another contol wire is not a noticeable increment.
    • For actuators in the
  • by RobertB-DC (622190) * on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @02:39PM (#15344077) Homepage Journal
    Most of the early comments seem to be in the vein of "OMG wireless hax!", but consider a real worst-case scenario, like the one that brought down ValuJet 592 [s-t.com]. It was caused by a fire in the cargo hold that cut critical links between the cockpit controls and the hydraulic systems needed to keep the plane running.

    As long as you have a physical connection from point A to point B, it is vulnerable to the most brute-force of DOS attacks: cut the connection and it's lost. A wireless link between the pilot and the control surfaces, on the other hand, can't be cut by a fire in the cargo hold, or even by a shoulder-fired missle (as long as it missed the kablooie stuff).

    In a real-world application, I'd expect both wired/optical links *and* wireless backup links. Such a fully redundant system would work both as a sanity check (both systems should be reporting the same results) and as a backup (wired works when wireless is jammed, wireless works when wire is cut).

    Plus, I can hardly wait for the netstumbler/kismet folks to write a monitor program to let me monitor things from the comfort of my tray table (on the emergency exit row, of course).
    • As long as you have a physical connection from point A to point B, it is vulnerable to the most brute-force of DOS attacks: cut the connection and it's lost. A wireless link between the pilot and the control surfaces, on the other hand, can't be cut by a fire in the cargo hold, or even by a shoulder-fired missle (as long as it missed the kablooie stuff).

      This ignores the fact that you still need lines to supply power to move control surfaces. So you still have hydrolic lines and/or electrical power lines

  • 'Also, if you do not have the cables then the system is much more flexible to changes,' she says."

    So when the wing snaps off... the pilot can still see the flaps responding to command as it spirals away...

    Sweet!

  • Not such a bad idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by darkwing_bmf (178021)
    I doubt the actual steering controls of an airliner will ever be wireless. But I can envision many parts of the avionics system being wireless. If the air speed indicator, for instance, gets jammed, the airplane isn't going to suddenly drop out of the sky, though the crew may have to manually take over control of the aircraft. Things of that nature seem like a decent place to use wireless technology if it matures to the point where failure rates are along the same order of magnitude as their wired counterpa
  • This brings to mind the Dilbert strip where the PHB is reminded by his secretary that he should NOT turn off his laptop while in-flight: "how else would they turn over control of the jet to you in an emergency?!"
  • by bill_kress (99356) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @03:01PM (#15344212)
    Okay, these guys are slow... real slow. They try stuff over and over a hundred times.

    What they are doing, however, is separating the concept of control system from a bunch of wires down to a single signal containing a data stream.

    When they figure out how vulnerable this is (and trust me, they will), they will try to figure out some other ways to deliver the data packets to the rest of the plane--at this point the design of microcontrollers at every interface point will have been completed and so all it will take is simply modifying the transport mechanism.

    They will probably, at this point, figure out that a few fiber cables (say between 2 and 8 in redundant loops that each connect to every system like SONET) can deliver the signal just as easily and with little additional weight over wireless, and on top of that is virtually unhackable without physical access--even safer than copper.

    Just give 'em time.
  • My question is... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Xichekolas (908635)

    What happens when a bunch of planes are sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off? Are they all going to confuse each other (wirelessly)? Or is there some fancy signal hopping that the internal components do to avoid interference? That would be annoying if plane #8's jets reacted to plane #1's take-off, rammed plane #7 from the rear, and plane #1's engines mistakenly shut down due to plane #7's collision alarms... could be a chain reaction of yuckiness and fire...

    Of course, it would be killer fun for a te

  • by capsteve (4595) * on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @03:12PM (#15344287) Homepage Journal
    isn't this really a PROOF OF CONCEPT? the plane the portugese tested was 3 meters long... not big enough for human passengers. currently fly-by-wire has multiple paths to the same device for redundancy, so having a wireless connection would be a good thing. considering the fact that airplanes are basically metal tubes, there aren't too many pathways that could be considered truely redundant... no matter if the wiring is harnessed above/below/port/starboard of the cargo or passenger cabin, all paths are still running parallel to each other. the wireless connection would allow a redundant connection without a pathway limitation. as a response to the comment that wires don't take up too much space, try having 5 redundant connections from point a-b, and you're talking a minimum of 2 wires for the simplest circuit(on/off switch) per pathway. what happens when it's a system that requires multiple degrees of motion with feedback? you think 2 wires is gonna do that? fiber, maybe, but not copper. and when you consider the amount of cabling that goes into a passenger class jet, you be safe to bet there's probably 1/4-1/2 mile worth of wiring for all your electrical systems. saving space and weight can become an important issue. and lastly a comment about hacking/jamming/disruption of fly-by-wireless: any flight control system that would actually use wireless technology will not end up using a consumer band of wavelength, nor would it use consumer grade software protocols. airflight as a business is culturally too important and profitable to allow disruption by such commonly available technology. fly-by-wireless tehnology will end up being very expensive, and very difficult to compromise, licensed and regulated heavily, and will operate in a far different spectrum band than bluetooth or 802.11.
  • by Captain Perspicuous (899892) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @03:37PM (#15344489)
    They tried to remove having a cable between the cockpit and the rudder. They replaced it with "wireless", which means that that both ends need some sort of a sending/receiving device, which uses power, which is provided by a cable, which connects from the power source to both the cockpit and the rudder. So, no wires between the cockpit and the rudder, right?
  • by Shotgun (30919) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @06:20PM (#15346046)
    Detectability.

    People don't respect old mechanical controls, but they have one enviable attribute in that wear can be detected and measured before a failure occurs. All it requires is that someone pays attention. My JD-2 is wide open and I can inspect anything with nothing more than a hand mirror taped to a stick. Electric controls might be lighter than the 1"x.065 4130 tube running the length of the plane, but I'd never be able to feel the play increasing in a joystick.

Happiness is a positive cash flow.

Working...