Sending data wirelessly through ‘smart’ composites

An artist's impression of SurFlow being used in an advanced aerospace application
Research and innovation organisation, TWI has created a form of data transfer technology called SurFlow. It claims that SurFlow can be incorporated into composite materials to create a high-capacity, resilient data transfer network.

Through a patented process, SurFlow is said to transmit data in the form of electromagnetic waves that travel through composite parts. The system uses no wires or fibre optics and, unlike wireless data transfer, cannot be intercepted remotely.

By incorporating a substrate combining dielectric and conductive materials, these surface waves can be transmitted through composite structures. The waves are propagated and received using transducers which can be placed anywhere along the smart composite.

By turning a composite part into a ‘smart’ composite, the technology integrates a data network into a component’s physical structure. TWI says the system is capable of transmitting data at up to 6Gbit/s and can continue to function even if the composite part suffers damage.

Potential applications for smart composites are claimed to exist throughout industry. In the automotive sector, where use of composites such as carbon fibre is now extending beyond high-end applications, the technology could significantly reduce the complexity of a vehicle’s internal communications network.

In robotics, the technology could be used to enable communication throughout a robotic system without the use of wires. And in consumer electronics, the technology would allow a device to instantly connect to a network simply by making contact with the composite’s surface, with no need to plug anything in or detect and connect to a wireless network.

Further testing is being done to investigate the innovation’s potential. Other uses being explored include advanced aerospace applications and real-time composite monitoring, whereby subtle changes in the waveform allow any damage to a smart composite component to be identified immediately.

Tom Austin-Morgan

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