Homicidal autopilots

Discussion in 'OnBoard Electronics & Controls' started by Brent Swain, Feb 11, 2009.

  1. ancient kayaker
    Joined: Aug 2006
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    Location: Alliston, Ontario, Canada

    ancient kayaker aka Terry Haines

    According to a TV program I watched a week or two back, the pilot wakes up, lifting his foot off the footrest and accidentally switching off the transponder as he does so, accepts his coffee and eyes the stewardess thoughtfully. Shortly after there is a mid-air collision. Turned out one of the planes was at the wrong altitude, courtesy of a poorly designed ground control system. If the transponder had stayed on the systems of the 2 planes would have detected the situation and an alert would have sounded.

    Most automatic systems are very reliable and will do exactly what they are told with great precision. If they are told to do the wrong thing, they will do it with a perfection that no human can match.

    As a former engineer I have always had reservations about control systems with a combination of human and automatic control. Theoretically it should have the best parts of its 2 components, but the worst features can come together at the wrong time. Preferably, the automatic system should back up the human not the other way around. With an auto pilot the designer may be thinking that the human pilot will take over in a situation that the machine was not intended to handle, but with highspeed aircraft the human may not be able to spot the problem in time, With shipping he/she may not even be on watch.

    Sooner or later the human will be taken out of the equation altogether, it is going to happen; perhaps it is time. The technology is capable of it, properly designed of course. Let the pilot have a comfortable seat and give him automatically generated tests from time to time to keep him awake, for a few years until all the bugs are out and the crash rate falls below the current system then lay them off.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2009
  2. TeddyDiver
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    TeddyDiver Gollywobbler

  3. apex1

    apex1 Guest

    If it has no balls, no pu..y, say, if you cannot fu.. it, it will fu.. you, sooner or later! If it has B.. and P..it may fu..k you as well but you might notice in advance and take care. Thats what I told my pupils ages ago.
    In our early days we have been very impressed by sophisticated systems, and have loved to own such systems as a backup for our "poor handmade" seamanship. Today people rely totally on such stuff and are in a situation where they are the "backup" for the crap! Or (often) not.
    My two cent (€ as usual)
  4. mala
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    Location: OZ

    mala Junior Member

    Course Over the Ground can be quite unstable for some time after a tack in a confuse sea and of little use for controlling the heading of an autopilot at that time however a stable COG could be of great use for preventing a major fluxgate compass aberration. In any case informing the manufacturer about the short coming of their product and suggesting a way of improving on the design could be more useful than just posting it in a forum. I have found manufacturers receptive and willing.
  5. Landlubber
    Joined: Jun 2007
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    Location: Brisbane

    Landlubber Senior Member

    " I have found manufacturers receptive and willing."

    ....any examples mate.....

    ...In a past life I managed Chandleries...we constantly had a brand of electronics from NZ that were seriously unreliable, I wrote to them asking about helping solve some of their problems from customer feedback, and was told to show proof of my problems, I faxed a copy of the worksheet register to them, and they flatly DENIED ever doing the work......unbelievable bit true...I later owned my own shop and did not of course sell their products. They have been taken over now by one of the bigger groups...hopefylly now the problems will be addressed.
  6. mala
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    mala Junior Member

    I would not like to promote any brand, it may be against forum rules but it may pay these days of Internet to check a brand for services before purchasing anything. If a brand runs a “ask xx” have download and upgrade freely available is good sign of willingness to help. I have had a tiller drive sent from England at no cost because the local importer would not do anything. A controller head replaced on the spot at no cost, a suspected “homicidal” course computer card also replaced at no cost, a lazy other one, (would not linearize) fixed at no cost, the amount of upgrade available for an MFD show that these people do care in improving there product at no cost to the owner. Patience, understanding and the power of Forums do help. I can read that you have not lost
    hope which is good in any case if an agent give short change, go to the top.
  7. LyndonJ
    Joined: May 2008
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    LyndonJ Senior Member


    Why shouldn't we post observed errors of equipment on the forum?

    And what makes you pre-suppose that the manufacturers didn't know about it?

    For your first post you are making some silly comments. It would be more polite to introduce yourself for a start before you start grandstanding.
  8. Brent Swain
    Joined: Mar 2002
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    Brent Swain Member

  9. Frosty

    Frosty Previous Member

    I had a common name auto pilot on my 60 foot sloop. Its one of the most common wheel pilot, hydraulic.

    Any way one day in the malacca straits it just took of to starboard by 45 degrees, like some one punches a new heading, Being around at the time as always I brought it back but I could not fathom out why.

    I blamed it on the portable transistor radio that was the nearest to the control unit and the only thing to blame.

    For the next hour or two I waited for it to do it again but it did not until months after. I dare not leave the cockpit after that.

    It only did it the twice.
  10. powerabout
    Joined: Nov 2007
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    powerabout Senior Member

    How many people have multiple compasses wired via a switch to their autopilots
    and or wired directly assuming the software can choose and or warn of diverging errors?
  11. Brent Swain
    Joined: Mar 2002
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    Location: British Columbia

    Brent Swain Member

    It seems the most likely time for my autohelm to jam hard over is when I first turn it on. Perhaps one should watch it diligently at that moment, when the temptation is to simply hit the button before getting distracted,.
  12. murdomack
    Joined: Jun 2007
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    Location: Glasgow

    murdomack New Member

    Yes, I agree with that. I remember once leaving a harbour, held the course for a couple of minutes then switched the AP on from Stand-by. Seemed OK so I went out to take the fenders in. I sensed something was happening and looked out to see that I had turned 90 deg towards a rocky spit. Luckily, I had allowed some sea-room.

    The first AP I bought, when I took it out to try it, had my wife and son in hysterics as the boat would swing round 180 degs and take the reciprocal course. When I took it back to the chandelry I had to argue for some time before they give me another, which was a newer model. They had sold me the last of the first model so I don't know if they were conning me or not. The new model worked fine and I sold it on with the boat years later.

    I was on an oil-platform when a safety ship ran full-ahead under the spider deck. There were two RSJ collums, that had supported the by now missing wheelhouse, stopping it from running right through. No one was killed, it was a miracle. What happened was, they had been relieved by another vessel and were heading away to another assignment. The skipper set the auto-pilot, it looked OK so he popped down to the galley to collect a cup of coffee, and as soon as he did the boat swung round and headed straight for the platform.
    When they got outside after the crash they were in a state of shock. A guy on the platform who was on overside watch called the new vessel and informed them that their mates had just rammed the platform and were trapped under the spider deck with the engines at full ahead. He replied, "you're f--ing joking, aren't you?" They launched the rib and one of them had to go below and shut the engines down. The swell was buckling the vessels topsides under the tubulars so he was quite brave. Once the engines stopped she, fortunately, drifted back out by herself. It was pretty hairy, even for us up above, as she was a big lump of a vessel.

    So after all that, I don't trust auto-pilots.
  13. mala
    Joined: Jun 2010
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    mala Junior Member

    Would that make a difference?

    I remember a rig tender passing a 13x G oil platform few meters away at full speed in the morning and disappearing over the horizon until someone on board the rig tender did wake up. People can also be hard to trust.
  14. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    gonzo Senior Member

    I had my boat turned around by a tiller pilot. I sat next to it and the magnet in my cellphone speaker made it turn.

  15. Landlubber
    Joined: Jun 2007
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    Landlubber Senior Member

    ....try and remember also that the compass in the autopilot occassionally needs a few 360 runs to set itself up again, this is written somewhere in the text, but it was a few years back, it may still be relevant....
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