Materials to have ability to 'feel'

Work is underway at BAE Systems to give aircraft human-like skin that is able to detect injury and damage, essentially enabling an ability to 'feel' the world around them.

Engineers at BAEs Advanced Technology Centre are investigating a 'smart skin' concept by embedded tens of thousands of micro-sensors in the surface of a material.
When applied to an aircraft, it will enable wind speed, temperature, physical strain and movement to be detected far more accurately than current sensor technology.

The concept will improve health monitoring by reporting back on potential problems before they become significant and would improve maintenance and inspection.

The tiny sensors known as 'motes' can be as smaller than a grain of rice, at less than 1mm2. 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 BAE is exploring the possibility of retrofitting them to existing aircraft and even spraying them on like paint.

Senior research scientist at BAE Systems, Lydia Hyde, said: "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."

Justin Cunningham

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