British defence contractor, BAE Systems, is currently developing a system for aircraft, which allows the exterior of aircraft to “feel” damage or injury in a similar way to human skin.  BAE said the technology is able to detect problems before they occur. The system works by covering the entire area of an aircraft with tens of thousands of micro-sensors.  The devices could be able to measure movement, strain, wind speed and temperature.

Smart Aircraft, such as the Taranis could soon get 'smarter'

Smart Aircraft, such as the Taranis could soon get ‘smarter’

Lydia Hyde the senior research scientist, who came up with the technology, says the idea came to her while watching 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,” she said.

The sensors, which may be as small as dust particles and have their own power source, could even be sprayed on to an aircraft in a similar manner to paint, said BAE.

Jennifer Cole, the senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, informed the BBC, this technology could help stave off natural disasters or everyday annoyances.  She said, “It could help equipment and technology to ‘report back’ on local environmental conditions and alert users to when repairs are needed ahead of schedule if hairline cracks are detected early, for example on flood defences and dams…Or it could enable water pipes to ‘switch on’ heating elements automatically during a particularly cold winter that would prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.”  Cole added: “If similar technology could be applied to cars, it could revolutionise MOT schedules and potentially reduce road accidents.”

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[Image via en.wikipedia]