Energy-autonomous sensors for aircraft

Oct 01, 2009
Sensors in the aircraft skin will simplify maintenance. Credit: Micropelt GmbH

Aircraft maintenance will be easier in future, with sensors monitoring the aircraft skin. If they discover any dents or cracks they will send a radio message to a monitoring unit. The energy needed for this will be obtained from temperature difference.

If a bird collides with a plane the consequences can be fatal, not only for the creature itself. The impact can deform the structure of the aircraft fuselage, causing stresses in the material which can later turn into cracks. In future, sensors in the aircraft skin will detect such damage at an early stage and simplify maintenance and repair work. The sensors are light - they don't need any cables or batteries. They draw their energy from the temperature difference between the outside air (about minus 20 to minus 50 degrees Celsius) and the passenger cabin (about 20 degrees Celsius). Because there are no batteries to change, the sensors can be located at inaccessible places on the aircraft.

EADS Innovation Works heads the development consortium. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg, Germany, are developing the energy supply system for the sensors. "We use thermoelectric generators, developed in cooperation with Micropelt GmbH, and adapt them so that they work efficiently," explains Dr. Dirk Ebling, scientist at the IPM.

Thermoelectric materials are semiconductors which generate electric power under the influence of a temperature difference. If a number of these thermoelectric elements are connected in series, enough energy is produced to power small sensors as well as a radio device transmitting the measurement results to a central unit.

"We are also optimizing the ," the research scientist continues. A key question is how to couple the thermoelectric generator to the warm and cold environments so that it transports enough heat. To obtain the answer the scientists set up a climate chamber in which the temperature profile of the aircraft fuselage is simulated. The first optimized prototypes have already been built. Development of a prototype of the entire system including the sensor, thermoelectric generator, energy storage device, charging electronics and signal transmission module is scheduled for completion in about three years' time, hopefully enabling the system to enter series production.

The applications for energy-autonomous are numerous. In automobiles they could help to reduce weight by removing the need for heavy cable assemblies. They would also be useful in old buildings, where they could be easily affixed to walls e.g. to monitor dampness. Their use in the medical sector is feasible too. A sensor system integrated in a running shirt could monitor an athlete's pulse during training, and hearing aids could obtain their energy from body heat.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (news : web)

Explore further: LiquidPiston unveils quiet X Mini engine prototype

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Electricity from body heat

Aug 01, 2007

Making calls from a cell phone with no battery, using just the warmth of your hand? Perhaps that’s no more than a pipe dream right now. But new circuits are already making it possible to harness body heat ...

Electricity from the exhaust pipe

Jun 03, 2008

Researchers are working on a thermoelectric generator that converts the heat from car exhaust fumes into electricity. The module feeds the energy into the car's electronic systems. This cuts fuel consumption and helps reduce ...

Wireless EEG system self-powered by body heat and light

Apr 09, 2008

In the framework of Holst Centre, IMEC has developed a battery-free wireless 2-channel EEG (electroencephalography or monitoring of brain waves) system powered by a hybrid power supply using body heat and ...

Goodbye to batteries and power sockets

Jun 03, 2008

A broken cable or a soiled connector? If a machine in a factory goes on strike, it could be for any of a thousand reasons. Self-sufficient sensors that provide their own power supply will soon make these machines ...

Nervous system for structures

Apr 10, 2008

Technical structures will soon have their own nervous system. Developers and users expect this to bring greater safety, maintenance activities only when required, and a more efficient use of material and energy. Researchers ...

Recommended for you

LiquidPiston unveils quiet X Mini engine prototype

Nov 21, 2014

LiquidPiston has a new X Mini engine which is a small 70 cubic centimeter gasoline powered "prototype. This is a quiet, four-stroke engine with near-zero vibration. The company said it can bring improvements ...

Novel robotic walker helps patients regain natural gait

Nov 21, 2014

Survivors of stroke or other neurological conditions such as spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and Parkinson's disease often struggle with mobility. To regain their motor functions, these patients ...

Tomorrow's degradable electronics

Nov 20, 2014

When the FM frequencies are removed in Norway in 2017, all old-fashioned radios will become obsolete, leaving the biggest collection of redundant electronics ever seen – a mountain of waste weighing something ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NotAsleep
not rated yet Oct 01, 2009
How much energy is generated in this process? Power generation on aircraft is a battle of power vs. weight. It would be pretty neat if the entire skin of an airplane was used to generate some or all of the power during flight.

Perhaps a little off topic: Has anyone heard of a study on the practicality of putting a thermoelectric generator in between a computer chip and its radiator?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.