Tomasz Zajda -

CGI to develop virtual, cloud-hosted ‘black box’ recorder technology for aircraft

IT consultancy CGI is developing an alternative to the traditional ‘black box’ recorders found in aircraft that will allow teams on the ground to intervene quicker in the event of an emergency onboard

CGI is to head up a consortium tasked with developing a virtual, cloud-based alternative to traditional “black box” flight data recorders that will be able to transmit telemetry and operational data to the ground in real time.

The IT consultancy secured the contract through the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Space Systems for Safety and Security programme, with the help of the UK Space Agency.

The Universal Virtual Flight Data Recorder (UVFDR) CGI has been tasked with developing is designed to replicate the functionality of a black box recorder, except the data it records and stores will be made available immediately to ground-based engineers that need it in the event of a mid-air emergency or accident.

Heather Britton, head of space applications at the UK Space Agency and the UK representative of the ESA Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems programme, said the UK has a long history of leading the way on innovation in the aerospace and aviation industries.

“UVFDR is another great example where space technology helps solve a real-world challenge, and it’s great to see the UVFDR team carry the torch forward by developing cutting-edge aviation technology to further improve safety and operations in the UK and globally,” said Britton.

The UVFDR will need to adhere to the Global Aeronautic Distress and Safety System (GADSS) aircraft tracking and flight data recovery requirements, and is intended to cut the amount of time it takes to locate an aircraft in distress.

“Understanding the cause of an air-related incident is vital to helping improve flight safety, and indispensable for those impacted and their families,” said Neil Timms, senior vice-president for space, defence and intelligence for UK and Australia at CGI. “CGI is proud to be working with ESA, whilst building on our heritage in safe, secure cloud, to develop a virtual flight recording service that allows any suitably equipped aircraft to send flight data to a secure cloud storage facility.”

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The UVFDR will make use of CGI’s TrustedFabric cloud-hosted proprietary blockchain technology, which is specifically designed to store highly sensitive data, and a commercial version of the product will be made available globally in due course, the company confirmed.

“CGI will work with ESA, Code Magus, Cranfield University, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and industry stakeholders SatAuth and others to define use cases and system requirements for a global UVFDR service,” the company added, in a statement.  

“The concept being developed makes use of the increasing availability of satellite data communications bandwidth, and the growing number of aircraft equipment capable of transmitting flight data, such as Quick Access Recorders (QAR) and similar systems.”

Li Wen-chin, from the safety and accident investigation centre at UK-based Cranfield University, said the system will also have proactive functionality so that it can prevent problems occurring in mid-air.

“The system will not only provide assured truth data required by investigations, but it can also detect and flag potentially unsafe situations before they occur,” he said. “Our vision of the future is that flight crews in abnormal situations have access to much better support than what’s presently possible.”

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