future technology

A smart skin to secure aircraft

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The British company BAE Systems, which specialises in defence and aeronautics, is working on a "smart skin" concept for aircraft.

The "smart skin" concept developed by BAE Systems is designed as an array of nano-sensors that cover the surface of a device. Each sensor has its own power supply and wireless communication system. The system could measure air flow, temperature, acceleration, calculate position, magnetic field or certain physical constraints, much more accurately than current systems allow. All the data is then sent to a central system for analysis with a real-time display in the cockpit. 
This would take the form of a paint composed of nano-sensors all over the surface of the device. Equipped with their own power supply and communication system, these sensors would form a network capable of transmitting information in the image of what the human skin does with the brain.

This technology will allow an aircraft to continuously monitor for potential problems and detect them before they pose a danger. Its implementation would reduce the number of ground checks required for safe flight and optimize aircraft maintenance by anticipating the need for replacement parts.
The micro-sensors at the heart of this innovation are so small that they can be less than one square millimetre. BAE Systems teams are also studying the possibility of fitting them to existing aircraft. The entire system would be equipped with its own power source, and would communicate its data (analyzed and displayed in an understandable form) in real time to an operator via a wireless connection.

This smart paint could be ready in about 15 years, says Lydia Hyde, the research director leading the project. Hyde, a researcher at BAE Systems' research and development centre in Great Baddow, Essex, developed the idea after observing that her dryer uses a sensor to prevent overheating. She says: "We are currently showing how expensive and bulky sensors can be replaced by cheap, miniature, multi-functional sensors, known as small spots that are as small as a grain of rice. My research shows that every plane, ship or ground vehicle could be covered by thousands of tiny spots creating a "smart skin" that can sense the world around it and also monitor its condition by detecting pressure, heat, or possible damage. The idea is to make "sensitive" platforms using sensor skin in the same way as animal perception. »

(Source and Photo ©BAE Systems)

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