MH370 mystery spurs development of new location technology

The Seabed Constructor marine vessel used in search for the MH370 aircraft.

As the search for MH370 resumes in the Indian Ocean, US company DarkWater Acoustics has patented an underwater locator beacon (ULB), or ‘adaptive pinger’, which it says could greatly increase the chances of finding missing aircraft or ships in the future.

The 2014 MH370 crash was the inspiration for the new device.

Conventional ULBs activate on contact with water. Most send out an ultrasonic 37.5 kHz acoustic ‘ping’ once a second, with a detection range of about 2–3 kilometres. The power of the signal is fixed and most have a battery life of about 30 days.

DarkWater says its adaptive pinger senses depth and can adjust its signal strength and frequency (ultrasonic and/or audible) to give searchers a more precise location. It can be configured to begin sending signals only after a fixed period, such as 30 days, by which the battery life of most conventional ‘black box’ pingers will have expired. The device can then send out signals at a lower pulse rate, such as once every three seconds, thus extending battery life for up to three months.

While it is larger than many conventional ULBs, it can be equipped with more than one battery and with data or voice recording capability.

DarkWater Acoustics says that its patent also covers the retrofitting of existing pingers so that they delay sending signals, giving searchers or rescuers time to arrive in the search area.


  1. Wouldnt it be better for a plane to send its gps location via satellite to a storage location which say holds the last 12 hours and then dumps it after landing. In fact place a duplicate black box in the cloud which could have been done a few decades ago and would allow a better preliminary analysis, especially when a foreign power is witholding access

    • That sounds like a good idea but obviously there is something preventing them doing this with any accuracy I suspect, the other thing with MH370 is all communication and telemetry was lost soon after it took off thats the biggest problem in finding the thing so even if that sort of tech was on board in this case it wouldn’t of helped

      • David, I agree, but if you set up a real time, unmaskable alarm that data transmission has ceased or to get smarter, location had deviated beyond a corridor, then focus could have been applied when needed, using real time primary radar and normal communications.
        This is not just hindsight as this was a foreseeable event and it surprises me that the systems have evolved so little since the sixties to encompass modern capabilities.
        Given the cost to date of the search and the anguish of this one event, it is hard to see why this is not already implemented.
        Accuracy would not be critically important as anything is better than “in the Indian Ocean”

  2. It just flaws me that in this day & age we still can’t track/locate a very large aircraft anywhere on the globe autonomously! You would think we are in the 50’s still!!! Christ even the Submarines these days are fitted with a releasable buoy that will ascend to the surface & scream bloody murder ! This surely could be automatically as well given certain parameters obtained removing the need for human activation. .Considering the globe is covered by 2/3rds water there a better chance that an A/C will go down into the sea than on dry land. Humans never learn too good, we are the weakest chain in the link, fix it for Christ sake ! Imagine having your parents, child etc onboard a plane that’s simply disappeared off the face of the globe for years!

  3. The Argentine submarine has still not been found, with regard to releasable buoys and the like. Another system that could possibly be used or modified is the US Navy SOSUS, a ocean acoustic listening system. Most Navy submarines have hydrophones that are capable of detecting acoustics at various wavelengths and frequencies. Sound in some cases can travel considerable distances underwater depending on the frequency. A multi-spectrum beacon with a better battery, transmitting on various frequencies could be the answer, especially when the signal might have the capability of being triangulated by various vessels

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