Aircraft to be made from ‘human-like skin’ to enable them to feel damage and monitor their health while flying
A British defense contractor BAE Systems is working on a technology that will make the exterior on of an aircraft to be able to detect problems before they occur.
Scroll down for audio interview discussing the project
The aim is to make the exterior of an airplane “feel” injury or damage the way human skins do. The technology works by covering the entire body of an airplane with tens of thousands of micro-sensors that are able to detect problems before they occur.
The British defense contractor said that the smart skin is embedded with tiny sensors the size of rice grains that could be sprayed on existing aircraft like paint. 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.
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.
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.
According to one analyst, this technology could go far beyond military.
The idea for the smart skin came about when BAE senior research scientist Lydia Hyde noticed a sensor in her tumble dryer that prevented it from overheating.
“Observing how a simple sensor can be used to stop a domestic appliance overheating got me thinking about how this could be applied to my work and how we could replace bulky, expensive sensors with cheap, miniature, multi-functional ones.
“This in turn led to the idea that aircraft, or indeed cars and ships, could be covered by thousands of these motes creating a ‘smart skin’ that can sense the world around them and monitor their condition by detecting stress, heat or damage.
“The idea is to make platforms ‘feel’ using a skin of sensors in the same way humans or animals do. 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.”