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Internet of Things May Play Role in Search for Missing Airliner

A news report says onboard engine monitoring equipment indicates the Malaysian plane had kept flying after dropping off radar.

The Internet of things has come into play in the ongoing search for the Malaysian airliner that disappeared six days after leaving Kuala Lumpur on its way to China.

According to a report March 13 in the Wall Street Journal, some investigators believe Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may have flown as long as another 4 hours after falling off radar screens, which would mean it could have flown as far as 2,500 miles from the point of last contact. The report further complicates a perplexing and massive search for the Boeing 777 airliner that has included help from the air and on the water from a range of countries, including the United States.

Malaysian officials have said the plane, carrying 239 people, disappeared from radar screens an hour into its flight. Reports of possible remnants and oil slicks in waters in the region have turned up nothing, and authorities are expanding the search.

Anonymous sources told the Wall Street Journal that some U.S. investigators and national security officials believe the plane traveled another 4 hours without its transponders operating. That belief comes from an onboard monitoring system in the airliner's engines. Data about the plane—from the health of the engines to the speed, altitude and movements of the airliner—is automatically downloaded from the airliner and transmitted back to Rolls Royce, the engines' manufacturer, according to the news site. The engine data, compiled every 30 minutes, is analyzed by Rolls Royce to monitor any changes from one flight to the next.

Investigators are analyzing the information to see if they can get a better handle on where Flight 370 went after it disappeared off radars, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Malaysian authorities are disputing the report, saying all contact with the plane ended March 7. In addition, Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent for the magazine Orient Aviation, told CNN that he also doubted the report, saying that the idea that the plane "could have flown on for four hours after it disappeared and not have been picked up by someone's radar and not have been seen by anyone, it's almost unbelievable."

The rapid growth in the number of connected systems and machines—from smartphones and tablets to cars, appliances, medical devices and manufacturing systems—is creating the Internet of things (IoT), where sensors in the devices create massive amounts of data (such as aircraft information) that can then be analyzed and acted upon. IDC analysts expect the global IoT market to reach $3.7 trillion by 2017.