Searching For MH370′s Black Box


Courtney Love declared she is addicted to the story (or non-story) of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. The news media has been poorly attempting for a week to create news from the little factoids about the vanishing plane, disregarding the human tragedy in its wake.  Jon Stewart’s parody (above) of the news is in fact the most honest reporting, sad when fake news is more accurate then the real thing.

Okay here is what we know.  Physicists using the Doppler Effect have declared that the plane crashed into the Southern Indian Ocean 1,500 miles off the coast of Australia. Their theory gained so much credibility that the airline sent out text messages to the families of the survivors informing them of their loss (talk about a new low, sometimes technology is a poor replacement for a simple in person conversation).  Well the big question is now, where is the black box?

The US Navy has joined the feverish search for the Black Box before its battery dies. The hero in this story (if any) might be an underwater robot, called Bluefin-21. This 16-foot, torpedo-shaped bot caries a slew of sensors that will use its side-scan sonars to investigate underwater objects at depths of 15,000 feet.  Joining the BlueFin-21 is his sidekick the Towed Pinger Locator-25 (TPL-25) which has been successful in locating emergency sonar beacons on downed Navy planes and other commercial aircraft black boxes. Ships tow the system at slow speed, and TPL-25 is good to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet. Talk about a dynamic duo!

Admiral John Kirby said that an underwater robot and a towed search system had left New York and were on their way to Perth, Australia. (Recently spotted debris was seen by satellites about 1500 miles west of Perth in the Southern Indian Ocean).  These assets would be used only if there were a debris field spotted and confirmed to be from MH370, and that part of the hunt relies on search aircraft, satellite images, and surface ships to find the missing airliner. These more sophisticated tools the Navy is offering then would help to locate the plane’s underwater resting place.

In today’s technological world a plane vanishing from radar and space is an amazing and unnerving occurrence that makes us feel vulnerable.  In this fragile state, robots might be the only glimmer of hope for the families of flight 370 to have closure.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by thierry ehrmann

About the author: Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is the Founding Partner of Autonomy Ventures a New York based venture capital firm focused on seed stage investments in robotics, autonomous mobility and artificial intelligence. He has spent the last twenty years building and selling ventures, including: Holmes Protection to ADT/Tyco, Americash to American Express, and launching RobotGalaxy, a national EdTech brand. Oliver has been investing in the robotic industry for close to 10 years, with four successful exits in his angel portfolio in the past two years (including 2 IPOs). He is also a member of New York Angels and co-chairs the Frontier Tech Committee.

As father of five, Oliver launched RobotGalaxy in 2006 to fill a personal need: he wanted a wholesome activity for his son. RobotGalaxy’s patented toys were a national phenomena available at Toys’R’Us, Nordstrom Department Stores, and online that connected to a virtual world and library of mobile apps.

Before RobotGalaxy, Oliver was involved in a number of successful technology ventures and real estate developments. Oliver was part of the executive team of Softcom/IVT, an interactive video startup backed by Allen & Co., Intel Capital (NASDAQ:INTC) and Sun Microsystems. At IVT, Oliver was instrumental in expanding the market for their products with such leading broadcasters as HBO, Showtime, and Home Shopping Network.

Prior to IVT, Oliver was a founding member of AmeriCash, Inc., a network of ATMs in high traffic retail locations. AmeriCash was acquired by American Express (NYSE:AXP) within 32 months of operations. Oliver was also instrumental in the development of Holmes Protection and its sale to ADT/Tyco International (NYSE:TYC). Oliver has extensive background in merchant banking and advertising. He started his career at Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners.

Oliver holds 14 patents and has appeared on numerous television shows, including: The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, Fox Business News, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray. He also serves as a mentor on the Entrepreneur Roundtable Accelerator Fund, and advises many technology companies on their growth strategies including Greensight Agronomics and Que Innovations.

Oliver is also the publisher of the well-known robotics blog Robot Rabbi and is in the midst of writing a book entitled, “An Innovator’s Field Guide: Taking Ideas From Zero to Hero.”

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