BAE Systems is developing a sophisticated system using microsensors, to form a smart skin for aircraft.
The revolutionary concept could provide aircraft with the ability to conduct a ‘health-check’ continuously, whilst the plane is flying. The system will relay and feed back potential and actual faults before they fully develop. This will reduce the number of inspections required on the ground. It will also make aircraft maintenance more efficient, thus improving the planes availability and safety.
The micro sensors or ‘motes’ can be as small as a dust particle. They would have a collective power source when linked with the relevant software allowing signals similar to the way living skin communicates with the brain. Because of the miniscule size of the sensors, retrofitting to existing aircraft could be a possibility as well as application via spraying.
The original concept came from Lydia Hyde, a senior scientist at BAE System Advanced Technology Centre. Lydia said the idea came to her while looking at her tumble dryer, which uses a sensor to prevent 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.”