GE is promoting development of cloud computing systems for air traffic control
In the same way that cloud computing is being used to assist in operations for NASA’s recent Mars rover mission, Curiosity, it might very well be implemented for use in air traffic control. This is not to say that the same cloud computing technologies driving space missions will be used to manage air traffic, only that the prospect of being able to cull from seemingly endless resources to improve current systems and standards which are in place. General Electric has already committed to a 1 ½ year project which seeks to create definitive cloud computing systems and services which can be used to forge a truly (in their own words) next generation approach to air traffic management.
Just how exactly might cloud computing improve ATM (air traffic management), you ask? First off, there is an extraordinary amount of data coming in at any given time which needs to be processed by both machines as well as human beings when it comes to air traffic control. Aside from the actual management of flight paths there are weather and environmental-based factors that need to be analyzed and considered during standard operations. For example, the sudden emergence of severe storms certainly merits the attention of ATM strategists and through the use of cloud computing, it might be much easier to instantly plot and implement alternate routes at a moments notice.
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Likewise, there is the notion of rising (or fluctuating) fuel costs which can seriously trim an airline’s profits. Naturally, by designing more direct and efficient flight paths, fuel usage might become more economical, which in turn, boosts savings and helps the environment.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the cloud could be used to reduce or completely eliminate mid-air collisions and “near misses”. By analyzing data coming in from multiple sources in real-time (radar, satellite, etc…) and calculating trajectories, this new cloud solution might very well be able to predict when a collision is possible and enact precautionary protocols. Don’t think this is a serious issue? Did you know that there are numerous reported cases of “near misses” each year (where planes nearly collide in mid-air)? Flight path deviations, faulty communications, and/or navigational errors are all often responsible for near collisions of aircraft, for example. The truth is, a dedicated cloud computing system which is able to take a larger pool of data into account and even engage in real-time analysis and monitoring will likely be able to prevent these types of events from occurring.
One area where GE isn’t researching or implementing cloud computing technology (or perhaps not yet) is in aircraft maintenance. Just imagine being able to tap into the power of an extensive cloud computing network which is able to quickly and efficiently assist in all aircraft testing and upkeep. Electrical, as well as mechanical systems analysis could be greatly sped up, so could examination of onboard electronics. In other words, there could be more solid checks done in significantly less time on multiple fronts (hands-on analysis by individuals as well as computers).
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But the fun doesn’t stop there; another obvious place where cloud computing be implemented is in airport security and luggage management. Although some might not be aware of it, quite a bit of passenger luggage is often lost or misplaced by airlines on an annual basis, and while there are certain systems which can help trim down the percentages, they cannot compare with what might be possible through cloud computing.
For instance; security camera footage, airline records and even employee memos could all be compiled into one central database along with scans, ID numbers and eve photos / passenger descriptions of luggage. This would provide customer service agents with direct access to a wealth of information concerning the status and potential whereabouts of someone’s lost luggage.
However, despite the many potential uses for cloud computing in and around airports, the absolute best use of it is in the area(s) which GE is pursuing – air traffic management. Regardless of what happens in and around airports, the safety of passengers in-flight is most important. Also, any way that cloud computing might be able to improve business for all airlines is an enormous plus (given that they are often prone to receiving big bailouts from the government). In truth, the current ATM system is in dire need of upgrading anyway, it seems only fitting hat cloud computing might be leverage to build a better form of infrastructure for these purposes. Soon, GE will unleash its cloud solutions for avionics upon us, which will likely revolutionize the entire industry; until then, we’ll just have to wait.