NASA Spinoff

Product Outcome

The Tao Systems sensor array, seen here on the leading edge of a Northrop Grumman SensorCraft flexible wing model, was used to successfully demonstrate gust load alleviation. Tao Systems’ sensors could one day enable flexible wing aircraft that respond in real time to aerodynamic conditions, resulting in bird-like flight.
Today, Tao Systems has developed three of the four planned components for its closed-loop system. The final component, a controller, is scheduled for completion by 2012. In the meantime, the company’s completed components—its SenFlex hot-film sensors, hot-wire and hot-film constant voltage anemometers, and its proprietary signal processing techniques—are providing sensing solutions for a host of research and development applications.

Customers such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Electric, BMW, and Rolls Royce have employed SenFlex sensors for the nonintrusive measurement of airflow and temperature characteristics. Sandia National Laboratories are using the company’s technologies to explore ways of improving wind turbine operation.

“Whenever there is a tremendous amount of power available from high winds, these turbines have to shut down because they cannot handle the load,” says Mangalam. “If they could have some way of measuring and controlling the loads generated by the gusting winds, the turbines could generate more power and last longer.”

Tao Systems’ technologies are also employed for examining airflow in buildings to determine ways to save energy by optimizing air conditioning use.

“Wherever there is airflow, the opportunities are plenty,” says Mangalam. But he is quick to note the usefulness of his company’s technologies underwater as well, for developing and improving underwater turbines generating electricity from waves and tidal forces. Using its SBIR-developed components, Tao Systems is also working with the U.S. Navy to create a control system for an underwater propeller blade that can alter its shape to maintain high performance in a range of hydrodynamic conditions.

While Tao Systems’ customers continue to make use of its innovations, the company has its eye on the potential benefits its completed closed-loop flight control system will offer. Mangalam says that once the system is available, engineers will be able to use it to develop advanced adaptive control systems and flexible wing structures, allowing an aircraft to respond to—and even take advantage of—aerodynamic conditions as they happen, improving flight safety and comfort, increasing fuel efficiency and payload capacity, and extending aircraft lifespan by reducing structural strain and fatigue. Advancements like this would provide human aviation with capabilities closer to those of nature’s perfect aerodynamic creation.

“We could fly by feel,” he says, “like a bird.”

SenFlex® is a registered trademark of Tao of Systems Integration Inc.

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