A British Airways A380 flight from London to Los Angeles was 1000km northwest of Ireland when the crew decided to turn around and return to London due to the failure of all lavatories. The aircraft landed safely about 5 hours after departure.
That made me think. Engineers spend a lot of time working on the critical systems that keep people alive. Aviation systems that drive flight controls or the engines, provide accurate information to the pilots or many other things that simply can’t go wrong. In my industry, rail, it’s safety systems that drive the points that route trains, or the signals, or the systems that stop trains passing red lights.
That aeroplane diversion cost a lot of money and impacted hundreds of people, all due to a failure of a non-safety system – nothing to do with those high technology, highly analysed critical computer systems. What was the choice though? It would have been bad enough for the passengers not to be able to, err, pay a visit, for a couple of hours, but if the crew had elected to finish the flight there would have been even longer for them to sit with their legs crossed.
The Internet of Things gives us access to huge volumes of data that lets us predict and prevent failure.
There are lots of railway-related examples where failure of non-critical systems can have a major impact. Trackside telephones for example, it’s essential that if a signaller picks up a phone and talks to someone at a level crossing or signal, they’re actually where the signaller thinks they are. What about station systems like passenger information or ventilation control? When something goes wrong, like in a fire, then they become life-savers.
The Internet of Things gives us access to huge volumes of data that lets us predict and prevent failure. Making sensible, timely decisions based on that data is essential, but it will take a change of the way we think about how all the systems work together if we’re going to make the world a safer, more comfortable place – with a full set of working toilets.