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Automagic No-Fly-Zone Enforcement 536

An anonymous reader writes "SoftWalls is the name of an aviation project at UC-Berkeley that's developing a system for commercial airliners that establishes and enforces no-fly zones. Basically, through GPS, if a plane begins to enter a no-fly zone (eg, around a mountain, or over Lower Manhattan), an alarm goes off in the cockpit. If ignored, the system actively removes control of the plane away from the pilot and co-pilot to steer the plane out of the no-fly zone. The technology is intended as both an accident prevention technique and a deterrent to terrorists planning to ram a building. ABCNews recently profiled the project (with video) and also rode along with a working prototype built by Honeywell that successfully kept a Beechcraft from hitting a mountain."
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Automagic No-Fly-Zone Enforcement

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  • by Aliencow ( 653119 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:35PM (#7869143) Homepage Journal
    When you can find a way to do it remotely !
  • Situation... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by skermit ( 451840 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:35PM (#7869148) Homepage
    "Turn 50 degrees east-north-east... you're about to hit another plane!"
    "...I can't"
    "Sure you can, just turn!"
    "NO... I physically CAN'T, the plane won't let me."


    Taking the control out of the pilots hands is a bad thing.
  • by bigjocker ( 113512 ) * on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:37PM (#7869158) Homepage
    Why wasn't this been implemented before? I don't care a rat arse about terrorists this and terrorists that, but I have lost a few friends in airplane crashes. With these technologies available at least a decade ago (this project is an implementation of a few old technologies) why isn't this a major requirement for all new planes?

    A lot of lives would have been saved if a plane would have at least a small database of known mountains in the flight path. Why don't our planes avoid mountains automatically?
  • by Tim_F ( 12524 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:37PM (#7869163)
    Except removing control of the plane from the pilot is probably not the way to do it.

    Setting up some form of fine system would achieve the desired effect without endangering the lives of thousands or millions of people.
  • by PaK_Phoenix ( 445224 ) <{ten.xoc} {ta} {3nirad}> on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:38PM (#7869175)
    Would a catastrophic loss of the GPS system, render these planes unusable? Also, depending on the accuracy of the system(remember they 'skew' the signal for civilian recievers), it could make the planes a bigger target, for the possibly more accurate GPS recievers on them.
  • Car implications (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the man with the pla ( 710711 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:41PM (#7869195)
    Everybody's thought about automobile systems that drive for you, and I think most of us suspect it will simply be a matter of time before it happens.

    Think about it: Doing a similar system in the air is a great place to learn about how to do this with cars...since asside from takeoff and landing, there's a much bigger tollerance for error in the wide blue skys.

    Written in the name of sacred jihad []
  • shot down? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by killthiskid ( 197397 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:42PM (#7869204) Homepage Journal

    From the FAQ [] (warning, PDF).

    A New York Times article in April of 2002 examined this issue [9]:

    "A Boeing 737 pilot for a major airline recalled approaching Reagan National Airport from the south a few years ago and facing a microburst, a rainstorm that includes sudden changes in wind direction. Such a condition can lead to a crash if a plane is at low altitude and low air speed, as it is on approach. He broke off the approach and turned east. ''It was the only way to go,'' he said.

    However, if he had been a little deeper into the approach, he said, ''I'd be flying right toward the protected area,'' the forbidden zone that includes the White House. A system that prevented him from turning that way would be unsafe, said the pilot, whose airline, like most, has been reluctant to discuss security changes."

    Today, that plane would be shot down. So this pilot was wrong. The absence of the system is far more unsafe. No microburst is as dangerous as a modern surface-to-air missile. With Soft Walls, this pilot would have maximum maneuverability, and there would be no need to shoot down the plane (assuming that the military has confidence in the system).

    I hate cutting and pasting from PDF files.

    Anyway, the statement Today, that plane would be shot down. to me is a bit absolute... is this really true? IF a pilot had problems, called in said problems to the tower and acted according instructions or his own judgement, would he really get shot down? Additionally, I have a problem accepting that jets would scramble fast enough to be able to do so...

  • sounds neat but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by segment ( 695309 ) <sil@po[ ] ['lit' in gap]> on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:43PM (#7869206) Homepage Journal
    Based on GPS? Correct me if I'm wrong here but couldn't a GPS jammer [] render this useless? (More on GPS jamming [])

    That is unless I guess commercial airlines transmit on L1 & L2 frequencies. Provided of course the military sees fit to allow commercial airlines to use that frequency. Which makes me wonder about what juridstiction the United States would have if say a Japan Airlines plane was using that frequency when it pulled in our airspace... Oh well back to work

  • ATM project (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ipjohnson ( 580042 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:50PM (#7869260)
    I actually currently work on another NASA research project that is taking a slightly different approach. Our model is to not only avoid no-fly-zones but other aircraft (using ADSB reports) as well as bad weather (this relies on weather reports from ground stations.)

    The big difference between the 2 projects is that ours only gives possible solution to the pilot and then he has to accept the route deviation rather than removing control from the pilot.

    I mean realisticly these solution are bleeding edge and wont make it into service for 20 years. Personally I'd like to see more of a grouund based solution but that probably because my background is ATC systems.
  • Re:shot down? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quixotic Raindrop ( 443129 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:51PM (#7869266) Journal
    Additionally, I have a problem accepting that jets would scramble fast enough to be able to do so...

    You'd be surprised, then, at how quickly on-the-ground alert aircraft can be scrambled. Perhaps more to the point, however, is that according to CNN and other public news sources many of the no-fly zones in the US now have random aircraft patrolling. A 767 might be capable of just-subsonic flight, but has no chance to get from the edge of a nfz to an interesting target against an F-15E that's already in the air. That doesn't even consider the speed of Sparrow, AMMRAM, Sidewinder, and other aircraft-mounted anti-aircraft missiles.
  • by yintercept ( 517362 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @06:55PM (#7869301) Homepage Journal
    Right now, terrorism of the skies is pretty much restricted to those groups that have a ready supply of people willing to kill themselves for their cause. Remote control airplanes will open the terrorist industry to technical savvy terrorist groups who like to work safely from the ground.

    Best of all, remote control airplanes would allow terrorist groups to work in larger numbers. Right now, terrorist groups are pushed to their limits to take over 4 airplanes. In this new system, a terrorist group that hacks the remote control code procedures for the soft walls project might be able to take take down 20 to 30 planes before the airlines are able to ground the fleet.

    The current airline security system pretty much exludes those terrorist groups that have people willing to kill for their beliefs, but not willing to die for them. This will be welcome news to any terrorist organization with good hackers.

    As for my comfort flying, the fact that I know that someone can take control of the airplane from the pilot will make me just that much more likely to buy one of those airline insurance policies.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:10PM (#7869415)
    Terrorist: ok , if you dont find a way within the next minute to turn it off then we torture this 6year old girl slowly in front of you until you do find a way

    Call me a heartless bastard, but I'll take the torture of one 6 year old girl over thousands of deaths and countless little girls tortured for life by the sudden violent slaughter of their parents any day. And that's not even counting the financial disaster, and the country- and world-wide consequences of a voluntary plane crash, such as the paranoia, warmonging and world-peace-threatening attitude of the government of the country that was hit.
  • Re:Lone Gunmen (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Alrescha ( 50745 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:23PM (#7869480)
    "I think it's both hilarious and sad that we're still focusing on terrorists wrt airplanes. They had their chance, and they used it to their great advantage. They'll come at us from a different angle now, knowing that they'll never again surprise us in that particular way."

    First sane thought I've seen in this thread.

    Over many years we had trained ourselves to cooperate with airplane hijackers and wait to see what they wanted. The 9/11 terrorists knew this and used it against us.

    They won't do it again, because they know that every person on the plane will try and rip their throats out.

    They'll watch, see what we aren't paying attention to, and use that next time. Bad news for us - we cannot pay attention to everything.

  • You make a good point, but I think you (and others) might be polarizing the issue more than necessary.

    I can imagine this being implemented as a restriction of options rather than prescriptive flight path. As you mention, pilots already deal with a myriad of decision factors, and this would act as another. If you need to put your 747 into an Immelmann or Split-S, just make sure you're not doing it into a mountain -- because the computer won't let you. The computer won't dictate what you have to do, just what you can't.

    We see these restrictions all around us. Water drums near highway barriers. Curbs on sidewalks. Large rocks surrounding bridge supports. Pilots are just beginning to benefit from the fact that these influences can be virtual.

  • Shot down WHERE? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TinheadNed ( 142620 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @07:43PM (#7869585) Homepage
    I agree with the others replying to this post in that there would be no doubt that the plane could be destroyed if desired, and little doubt that it would.

    However, something I'd like to check - I Am Not An American - isn't the White House kinda surrounded by Washington and lots of people (in a general kind of way). Where do you shoot it down that doesn't do more damage to the surrounding populace? Not all plane crashes end like Con Air.
  • by __aapopf3474 ( 737647 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @09:21PM (#7870053)
    [Disclosure: I work for Professor Edward A. Lee, who came up with the Soft Walls in response to 9/11. I'm a very skeptical person by nature, and have asked similar questions, or been around when others have asked these good questions.]

    The Soft Walls FAQ [] says:

    17. Isn't GPS vulnerable to attacks?

    The Soft Walls system relies on localization information. The aircraft computers have to reliably know where the aircraft is. Avionics systems today already include localization systems, which are required for navigation (and for more advanced safety systems, like ground proximity warning systems).

    The principle source of localization information today is the global positioning system (GPS), which uses signals emitted by a suite of 24 satellites. A GPS receiver performs a simple triangulation calculation to determine the location of the receiver. However, most aircraft have at least two backup systems. First, an inertial navigation system (INS) measures acceleration to determine when the aircraft is turning, ascending, or descending, and continually calculates the new location based on its knowledge of the previous location.

    Second, a variety of radio beacons are also used to triangulate the aircraft location. Radio beacons are particularly common around airports, and automatic landing systems rely on them.

    Most radio signals can be jammed. This means that a malicious party transmits a radio signal that swamps the one of interest, making it impossible to receive reliably. GPS signals are vulnerable to jamming. During the second Iraq war, Russian-made GPS jamming devices were sold to the Iraquis to use against smart munitions, many of which rely on GPS.

    Some radio signals can also be spoofed. This means that a malicious party transmits a radio signal that masquerades as the radio signal of interest, hoping that it will be picked up instead of the legitimate signal. Spoofing can be prevented by encryption techniques if the encryption key can be kept private. That is, it can be made extremely difficult (in today's technology, essentially impossible) to construct a legitimate signal without having knowledge of a key that can be very closely guarded.

    GPS signals currently contain encrypted channels that make spoofing by synthesizing a signal extremely difficult. Radio beacons can be both spoofed and jammed, and hence probably cannot be relied upon in a hostile environment. INS systems cannot be either spoofed or jammed, since they do not use communications of any kind.

    If a radio signal cannot be spoofed, then jamming can be reliably detected. Hence, if the GPS system is being jammed, then the Soft Walls system will know that it is being jammed, and instead of begin confused by random data, would switch to backup systems, primarily INS.

    Without knowledge of the encryption key, GPS cannot be spoofed by constructing an artificial GPS signal. However, it may be technically feasible to pick up a GPS signal at one location and rebroadcast it to another location in such a fashion as to confuse a GPS receiver at the second location into thinking it is actually at the first. However, this technique would be difficult to use in a hijacking scenario. To go undetected, it would require that a second aircraft start at the same place and at the same time as the aircraft to be hijacked, and then slowly diverge so that over time it is at a different location. That second aircraft would have to rebroadcast what it receives from the GPS satellites at high enough power that the first aircraft picks up its signals rather than the ones coming directly from the satellites. Even if this highly unlikely scenario could be pulled off, the transponders of the two aircraft would report the same locations to air traffic control, which will certainly raise suspicion. Air traffic control would determine that the aircraft had collided, but were still flying.

    A real vulnerability lies in the p

  • Re:shot down? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by OverCode@work ( 196386 ) <> on Saturday January 03, 2004 @09:44PM (#7870154) Homepage
    The pilot was not wrong. The presence of a system that would shoot down passenger aircraft facing a legitimate emergency is absolutely intolerable. Any large aircraft flying near that protected area is on radar with a uniquely identifiable transponder code and a filed flight plan.

    Pilots *have* to be able to make arbitrary decisions in the interest of safety at the last minute without fear of being second guessed by anyone. (Of course the FAA might ask for an explanation on the ground.) One several instances I've broken off approaches that I considered unsafe, and if anything had interfered with my choice of heading or altitude, I could very easily be dead. Trying to think ahead of the aircraft doesn't work too well if the aircraft suddenly decides it doesn't like where you're going and refuses to obey.

    Even flying with an ordinary autopilot can be kind of strange sometimes, and that does nothing but fly pre-determined headings and hold altitude. A nice tool, but very importantly one that is easy to disable in an instant.

    I'm afraid that such a system would make pilots more hesitant to respond to emergencies during takeoff and landing, for fear of making the problem worse by getting in a battle with the computer. Until you've been in a tense situation involving aircraft control, you have no idea of what it's like and just how far you have to push yourself. Thankfully I haven't been in many, but I've seen enough that there's no chance in hell I'm getting on an airplane with this kind of system, as pilot or as passenger.

    (yes, IAAP)
  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @09:45PM (#7870157)
    If you need to put your 747 into an Immelmann or Split-S, just make sure you're not doing it into a mountain -- because the computer won't let you.

    Fly by wire already does this. The aircraft is actually controlled by the computer. The pilot says 'turn left 10 deg'. The computer actually figures out how far to move the control surfaces, depending on alt, weight, speed, etc. It will not send the a/c into an Immelman.

    Fighter aircraft are limited by the FCC in the same way. Limited to a specific turn or G rate depending on the load. An F-16 with 2 ea 2,000 lb bombs on the wing will not turn as hard as an F-16 with only missiles. No matter how hard the pilot wants it to.
  • by Tenebrious1 ( 530949 ) on Saturday January 03, 2004 @11:03PM (#7870422) Homepage
    OK, so the software can turn away a jet travelling 500 mph once it gets into a 1 mile radius of a certain metro area. Will that stop a 747 that's diving from 35000 feet at a 85 degrees down? If the pilot has final authority to push the jet into such a dive, I'm thinking there's not much the software will be able to do once it kicks in automatically. Maybe it'll attempt to pull out, which means the terrorists aim a little lower than their intended target...

  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Sunday January 04, 2004 @06:29AM (#7872103) Homepage
    see the crash in swiss airspace where the pilot went against his TCAS and people died because of it

    He did not go against his TCAS out of his own volition. He obeyed orders given by a dimwit dumbfuck from the ground. Which the Swiss air control tried to hide and blame on the pilot. Just as they usually do. They are the second most famous after the French in Europe about it. Ever heard of a crash in Swiss air space when the pilot is not guilty? Even if he is given instructions to try to land from the hill side in a snow storm in near zero visibility like that CrossAir flight to Zurich three years ago?

    The case with UPS and the russian 154 was the most recent in a whole lineup of other ones. Just in those cases the Swiss have been successfull in covering up because the crash occured on Swiss soil and they "investigated" it.

    Thanks god the case which you are referring to crashed on German soil and it took their police only 24h to find out that the Swiss Air traffic control is bunch of lieing homicidal twats. As well as the fact that the reason for the crash was that someone gave the pilot orders to do so. Which by the way can be done with the no-fly-zone programming.

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