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Engineers at the 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, this will enable it to sense wind speed, temperature, physical strain and movement, far more accurately than current sensor technology allows.
The ‘smart skin’ concept will enable aircraft to continually monitor their health, reporting back on potential problems before they become significant. This 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.
These tiny sensors or ‘motes’ can be as small as grains of rice and even as small as dust particles at less than 1 mm 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 the company 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 who commented: “By combining the outputs of thousands of sensors with big data analysis, the technology has the potential to be a game-changer for the UK industry. In the future we could see more robust defence platforms that are capable of more complex missions whilst reducing the need for routine maintenance checks. There are also wider civilian applications for the concept which we are exploring.”
This research is part of a range of new systems that BAE Systems is investigating under a major programme exploring next-generation technology for air platforms.