A new flexible mesh can envelop airplanes, cars and other devices in a spidery cloak of sensors, designed to act as a network of nerves warning a machine of stress and damage.
Taking a cue from super-thin, super-strong spiderwebs, Stanford researchers designed a matrix of sensors that can wrap around an aircraft or other piece of machinery. The sensors can connect to a computer, warning a pilot or driver about any cracks or strains in the machine before they cause serious damage or injury.
This fall, more than a third of new cars must, by federal mandate, be able to sense the difference between an adult occupant, a child and an empty seat. Airbags would then only inflate as much as needed. Weight and tension sensors under seats and in seatbelts are the first step, but Siemens, TRW and Motorola are developing lasers, 3-D cameras and electrical fields that can determine occupants' position as well as their size.