Friday, September 24, 2010

Coming Soon: Touchy Aircraft

"Sensor-Equipped Spider Webs to Coat Aircraft"
Eric Bland, Tech News, Discovery News (September 23, 2010)

"Aircraft could soon be covered in new technological cobwebs. Inspired by the gossamer strands of spider webs, scientists from Stanford University have created an ultra-fine mesh of strain and temperature sensors.

"Wrapped around an aircraft, the sensors could help craft monitor their internal well-being. This added awareness 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,' said Fu-Kuo Chang, a scientist at Stanford University who developed the sensors and co-authored a recent article about the technology in the journal, Advanced Materials. 'Aircraft that have all the sensing information about what is happening around them, just like birds do.'..."

It's a pretty good article, discussing a new wrinkle in aircraft design - one that's being developed for other applications, too. (January 7, 2010, for one)

On the other hand, there's the occasion stumble:

"...But aircraft lack nerves. Unlike birds, they don't have a way to sense tiny changes inside their bodies. For instance, a bird in a dive can sense, through its nerves and other tissues, whether the strain is too great and if they need to pull up before their bones break...."

The sort of aircraft that the Wright Brothers built: those didn't have anything analogous to nerves. Contemporary fly-by-wire aircraft, with their avionics and data feeds going to and from various parts of the aircraft? The Lemming thinks those are analogous to nerves - even if the control system as a whole isn't all that smart.


What's new isn't data being sent back and forth in an aircraft: It's aircraft that have a sense of touch, or something very close to it.

And that's exciting.

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