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.Stanford scientist Fu-Kuo Chang explains that the mesh is intended to give airplanes a sensory mechanism like that of birds. Using radar and communications, airplanes can see and hear, but they can’t feel, he says — unlike a bird, which would feel pain, a plane would not be able to detect strain on its joints during an aerobatic dive.
The mesh involves a system of lightweight gold sensors placed on a plastic polymer sheet, as Discovery News explains. The sheet can stretch and expand to more than 265 times its normal size, causing the material to resemble a giant spiderweb. Chang says one square foot of the material could stretch far enough cover an entire car.
The material could be used for a wide range of purposes, including synthetic robot skin, smart wound dressings or even clothing for pregnant women that would allow them to see their unborn children.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.