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Human-Like Skin that Feels – For Planes?!

Human-Like Skin that Feels – For Planes?!

What if we told you that a defence contractor in the UK has developed technology that could give aeroplanes human-like skin that could ‘feel’?

Sadly (or not), this doesn’t mean great flesh-coloured aircraft scattering across our skies, but a plane covered with thousands upon thousands of tiny sensors.

These microsensors are so tiny – at least as small as a grain of rice – that they could collectively store their own power source, and would measure a variety of information, such as temperature, wind speed, movement and strain. The sensors would also communicate much in the same was as the human brain does, when they are paired with the appropriate software.

Lydia Hyde, Senior Research Scientist at BAE Systems and the brains behind the microsensor-skin technology, said that she came up with the idea after watching her tumble dryer being prevented from overheating through a simple heat sensor.

“[It] got me thinking about how this could be applied to my work,” she explained, “and how we could replace bulky, expensive sensors with cheap, miniature, multifunctional ones.”

Turning this concept around in her mind, Hyde thought about how thousands of these sensors could be applied to a range of vehicles, from cars to ships to aircraft, creating a sort of skin able to ‘sense’ the environment around them, and also able to monitor heat, stress and damage.

Making the sensors even smaller than rice grains, to the size of dust particles, would mean that the sensors could simply be sprayed onto an existing aircraft (or car or ship), as if giving the vehicle a new coat of paint.

“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,” Hyde said. “There are also wider civilian applications for the concept which we are exploring.”

If the technology were applied to cars, it could mean any problems could be highlighted sooner, thus reducing road accidents and potentially revolutionising how we go about MOTs.

But this human-like skin does not need to be limited to travel. If you think about applying the sensors to flood defences, dams, or bridges, these constructions could detect and alert us of damage early on, which means it can be addressed sooner.

Further down the line, if the weather reaches a certain temperature, central heating or air conditioning could automatically turn itself on. Heating elements could also be switched on to stop water pipes from freezing and bursting, and sprinklers could water the garden if the ground became too dry… The possibilities are endless!


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