Smart ’spider web’ sensors to make aircrafts fly like birds

September 24th, 2010 - 2:11 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Sep 24 (ANI): Mimicking the gossamer strands of spider webs, researchers from Stanford University have created an ultra-fine mesh of strain and temperature sensors that can be wrapped around aircrafts and make them fly like birds.

Wrapped around an aircraft, the sensors could help craft monitor their internal well-being-an advance that could prevent microscopic cracks from developing into catastrophic failures.

Beyond aircraft, the new technology could create a new breed of intelligent automobiles, packaging and medical devices.

“We want to make airplanes that fly like birds. Aircraft that have all the sensing information about what is happening around them, just like birds do,” Discovery News quoted Fu-Kuo Chang, a scientist at Stanford University who developed the sensors, as saying.

The new spider web-inspired mesh would give aircraft two new senses birds have had for millions of years-strain and temperature.

The new mesh contains tiny structures that can, say, measure the temperature along the entire body of the aircraft, or map the air pressure flowing around a wing.

The new sensor is a plastic polymer that has the gold sensors laid down on top of it, which monitor the skin of the aircraft.

Researchers are already developing technology that will allow pilots to image the interior of their aircraft similar to the way pregnant women can see their unborn children.

By adding ultrasonic wave-inducing piezoelectric devices, pilots could constantly scan the aircraft to discover, say, microscopic cracks in the supports long before they developed into life-threatening failures.

To paper an entire aircraft with sensors would ordinarily add significant weight, and therefore require more fuel, something airlines are anxious to avoid.

To get around this problem the California scientists stripped the sensors down to the bare minimum of material, eliminating 99.7 percent of it.

When the mesh is initially created it doesn’t look like a spider web, but on stretching, the material can expand more than 265 times its original size, creating an almost invisible mesh of wires that are nonetheless strong and and durable.

One square foot of the material could easily stretch far enough cover an entire car, said Chang.

The new sensors could eventually lead to smarter cars, wound dressings that tell doctors how quickly a patient is healing, shirts that allow pregnant women to see their unborn child whenever they want, or even synthetic skin for robots.

“This will have very extensive usage and importance,” besides just aircraft, said Chang.

The study has been published in the journal, Advanced Materials. (ANI)

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