2010

Dr. Gary Hunter, Intelligence Systems Hardware Lead and Technical Lead of Chemical Sensors, Sensors and Electronics Branch

So, I've just noted three things right there associated with commercial applications. In general, given that we work on things like fuel leak detection, explosive combinations of gasses, environmental monitoring, measurement of toxic gasses, one can imagine other possible applications associated with our work. I would suggest that there are a significant number but, as with aerospace applications, one would have to tailor the sensor for the application.

Over the years, because of an STTR (Small Business Technology Transfer) program award, we have worked with a company by the name of Makel Engineering towards the commercialization of some of these products.

NTB: If you could look into the future, where do you see sensor technology going in the next five years?

Dr. Hunter: I think there are two parallel directions one has to think about in terms of sensor technology. One is the idea that it has to be reliable, and often folks are concerned that sensor systems can add to unreliability of the overall system. They worry that sensors may not give you the correct data — that sensors may not be something that you can trust.

So, one of the things that I think you have to look at in terms of sensor technology and its development in the next five years is to concentrate on reliability, to be able to make it so that sensor systems can be believed, and so that people are not trying to remove sensor systems from their vehicles, but instead realize that when you remove a sensor, you remove information about what's going on in the environment. You become less aware of the conditions under which you're operating and less aware of information that might help you make a better decision. So, reliability is one direction that certainly sensor suppliers have to have in their minds as things progress in the next five years.

The other aspect that needs to be developed for sensor technology, I think, is the idea that one is trying to, overall, make smart sensor systems that not only include the sensor itself but also elements like power, signal conditioning, communications, multiple sensors, and sensors that tell you multiple parameters about the environment. You want to have all of those come into play into one, as we called them earlier, Lick and Stick type system. And that direction is not only for near-room-temperature applications, for which some of the electronics and some of the technology is more readily available, but also one of the directions we're trying to move towards are high temperature technologies that, not in the immediate term but over time, allow high-temperature Lick and Stick type systems. Again, we're not talking glues or adhesives or anything; what we really mean here is the concept of being able to demonstrate signal conditioning, power, telemetry, sensing, all in the same package and all be able to communicate at higher temperatures.

So, within the next five years one of the things that we would hope to do is, in the near room temperature area, be able to have a maturation and, by demonstration of our capabilities, more of an acceptance of the integrated smart sensor system approach for room temperature applications. But also, in the high temperature area, begin to demonstrate the possibility of high-temperature systems with, for example, signal conditioning, power, telemetry, and the like at higher temperatures. In fact, that’s a milestone we have in 2011 for the IVHM (Integrated Vehicle Health Management) program in Aviation Safety. It’s to demonstrate the basic capabilities of telemetry, signal conditioning, sensors, and power, all in a higher temperature system at 500 degrees C. That’s the first step in the high temperature area towards what we hope to be maturation of being able to put sensors, not just where it’s convenient and where the technology already exists, but being able to put them where they’re needed, where previously, harsh environments have limited the capabilities of sensor systems. Being able to, over time, implement smart sensor systems in the high-temperature regime, as well as near room temperature regimes as well.

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