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“Smart Skin” on Planes May Provide Pilots Real-Time Data


Consisting of a network of tiny sensors, the system would collect real-time data including flight conditions and damage.

Similar to advanced sensors in other mechanical applications, British aerospace engineering firm BAE Systems announced the development of a “Smart Skin” concept for aircraft. Their research revolves around installing a network of sensors across the body of an aircraft. Once in place, the sensors would be able to provide real-time feedback on flying conditions, as well as insights to mid-flight wear and damage.

“Observing how a simple sensor can be used to stop a domestic appliance overheating, got me thinking about how this could be applied to…replace bulky, expensive sensors with cheap, miniature, multi-functional ones,” Senior Research Scientist Lydia Hyde said in a statement on the BAE Systems’ website. “This in turn led to the idea that aircraft…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.”

Business Insider describes the skin as potentially a spray-on product, which would be paired with specialized software onboard the airplane. Once the software is developed and paired with the sensors (smaller than one millimeter in size), the airplane would provide pilots with information throughout the flight across a number of critical factors.

The sensors wouldn’t just act as an advance damage indicator for the airplane. Business Insider compared the sensors’ function very similar to that of human skin. At fully operational status, the “Smart Skin” technology would monitor conditions both on and around the airplane, including mechanical wear, service time, wind speed and temperature conditions.

The data would be sent in real time to pilots and other remote operators, who would be able to immediately alert ground crews to troubled spots upon arrival. BAE Systems suggests this would cut the down maintenance time and routine inspections, keeping more aircraft in regular service. And while the “Smart Skin” would allow crews to focus their inspections, all repairs would have to still be done by crews on the ground — the sensors would not be able to self-heal the aircraft mid-flight.

“By combining the outputs of thousands of sensors with big data analysis, the technology has the potential to be a game-changer,” Hyde said. “There are also wider civilian applications for the concept which we are exploring.”

According to BAE Systems, the research is part of a larger program that is exploring “next-generation technology for air platforms.” The project is still in testing, with no indication of when the technology would be available to roll out for commercial aircraft.

[Photo: iStock]

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