LONDON – A human-like ‘skin’ for aircraft – allowing them to detect any damage and ‘feel’ the world around them – is being developed by British experts.
Engineers at BAE Systems’ Advanced Technology Centre are investigating a ‘smart skin’ concept which could be embedded with tens of thousands of micro-sensors.
When applied to an aircraft, it will enable it to sense wind speed, temperature, physical strain and movement, far more accurately than current sensor technology allows.
The revolutionary ‘smart skin’ concept will enable aircraft to continually monitor their health, reporting back on potential problems before they become significant.
Engineers say the smart skin system would reduce the need for regular check-ups on the ground and parts could be replaced in a timely manner, increasing the efficiency of aircraft maintenance, the availability of the plane and improving safety.
The tiny sensors or ‘motes’ can be as small as grains of rice and even as small as dust particles at less than 0.002 inches squared (one millimetre squared).
Collectively, the sensors would have their own power source and when paired with the appropriate software, be able to communicate in much the same way that human skin sends signals to the brain.
The sensors are so small that BAE Systems is exploring the possibility of retrofitting them to existing aircraft and even spraying them on like paint.
Leading the research and development is Senior Research Scientist Lydia Hyde whose ‘eureka’ moment came when she was doing her washing and observed that her tumble dryer uses a sensor to prevent it from overheating.