The term “smart structures” is commonly used for structures which have the ability to adapt to environmental conditions according to the design requirements. As a rule, the adjustments are designed and performed in order to increase the efficiency or safety of the structure. Combining “smart structures” with the “sophistication” achieved in materials science, information technology, measurement science, sensors, actuators, signal processing, nanotechnology, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and biomimetic one can talk about Smart Intelligent Structures. In other words, structures which are able to sense their environment, self-diagnose their condition and adapt in such a way so as to make the design more useful and efficient.
The concept of Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures offers significant improvements in aircraft total weight, manufacturing cost and, above all, operational cost by an integration of system tasks into the load carrying structure It also helps to improve the aircraft’s life cycle and reduce its maintenance. Individual morphing concepts also have the ability to decrease airframe generated noise and hence reduce the effect of air traffic noise near airports. Furthermore, cruise drag reductions have a positive effect on fuel consumption and required take-off fuel load.
The SARISTU project, which is part-funded by the European Union, seeks to bring the latest innovations to the aeronautics industry in order to reduce development costs and optimize aero plane performance.
The SARISTU (Smart Intelligent Aircraft Structures) project has been focusing on ‘intelligent’ design techniques which aim to reduce development time and costs in aerospace manufacturing. SARISTU, which was launched in September 2011, has so far received €32 million in funding under the EU 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. The project uses new concepts in aerodynamics to reduce aircraft weight and operational costs, plus making improvements in flight profile-specific aerodynamic performance.
This in turn led to the idea that aircraft, or indeed cars and ships, 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.
“The idea is to make platforms ‘feel’ using a skin of sensors in the same way humans or animals do.”
Tiny sensors – known as motes – which can be as small as dust particles at less than 0.05mm squared could be used to create the skin.
They are so small engineers are looking into the possibility of spraying them on like paint, which would also allow existing aircraft to be retrofitted with the smart skin.
When given with their own power source and matched to appropriate software they will be able to communicate in much the same way that human skin sends signals to the brain.