NTB: What’s being done with the technology currently? Are you imagining new application scenarios? Are you testing it? What’s the current status of the technology?
Dudley: NASA uses a Technology Readiness Level scale from 0 to 9, where 0 indicates no technological development. The lower numbers are lower technology development levels. Technology Readiness Level 6 or 7 [designates] a fairly mature technology, ready to be handed off completely to industry to use in products and applications as industry sees fit. Technology Readiness Level 9 specifies a technology that is out there and in use. Currently, the SansEC technology and the framework that we’re developing is still a research level effort, and it’s about at a Technology Readiness Level of 3, meaning that we have developed and demonstrated some applications of the SansEC, particularly in our group and our focus on the lightning strike protection, but we are still investigating and studying how to best use and how to continue to develop the SansEC concept.
NTB: What is your specific work with the SansEC sensor? What is a typical day for you as it relates to the technology?
Dudley: A typical day: Our project team will get together, and we’ll discuss and review our milestone goals. We’ll focus on a particular one for that day, week, or sometimes month, and set up the priorities that are necessary to achieve that goal.
For instance, we were studying the SansEC sensor interface to particular composite material structures, and specifically to composite material structures that had seeded faults in them. We knew the damage characteristics, such as a delamination at a certain ply depth in a composite material. In this case, we’ll discuss the technical strategy of how we are going to approach the interface problem and the damage detection problem, and then we like to use both experimental methods and computational methods to tackle them. We have a team of users that are skilled in computational electromagnetic models and methods, and we will model up the composite structure and the SansEC sensor and place them in this computational environment, where we can leverage the computational tools by testing many different concepts and solutions in the computational space. We can tweak different parameters, such as the sensor’s geometry or the sensor’s operational frequency or interface structures between the sensor and the composite material itself. As we’re running through these various parameters in the computational space, we can do that much more quickly than actually building up an experiment and iterating several times in a physical experiment.
Once in the computational space, we zero in on promising solutions. Then we go and cut metal. We go ahead and create the composite panels; cut, design and fabricate the SansEC sensor for that particular solution; and we’ll test it in the lab by actually building it and testing it experimentally, bringing to bear our network analyzers, spectrum analyzers, and experimental hardware to do a comparison between the computational method and our experimental method. In doing so, we use our computational tools to inform how we conduct our experiments, and then we use the results from our experiments to feed back into computational methods to make continuous improvement in how to best deploy and design the SansEC sensor system.
NTB: What are the most exciting possibilities for SansEC?
Dudley: It’d be very exciting if we mature this technology and develop it such that it is an integral part of aerospace systems. It won’t start off on the commercial aircraft or the larger-scale aircraft. It’ll probably start first on the unmanned aerial vehicles, where you need this extension of information or health monitoring of the vehicle by creating a smart skin — very similar to your own skin and muscles, and how a human being is aware of its situational state just by feeling its environment. A mature application of the SansEC sensor into a smart skin of an aircraft system, starting out probably with unmanned aerial vehicle systems, would be very exciting.
Additionally, the application space is wide open. The other part of the excitement is communicating with various companies and individuals who have ideas and perspectives that we as an engineering team, with our particular focus on lightning or the SansEC sensor development itself, may not see fully. The people in different companies and discipline areas will bring forward concepts, ideas, and visions of how to use and deploy the smart sensor in ways that we couldn’t imagine. Working with them and talking with them for their particular application space until we visualize a solution is extremely exciting. We see applications in automotive, medical, or bio-medical, applications in chemistry, applications in other sensor areas, such as the nuclear safety industry. Seeing a number of these application spaces and helping our technology transfer partners realize a solution using SansEC sensors is the second part of that question, of excitement. We’re very excited to see the various application spaces.
NTB: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Dudley: I'd like to say that the SansEC effort is an effort of a team of individuals: George Szatkowski, Laura Smith (one of our outstanding computational magnetics [researchers]), Dr. Chuantong Wang, and Larry Ticatch are part of a team that bring to bear ideas and engineering solutions that made SansEC what it is today.
It was originally the invention idea of a Dr. Stanley Woodard. He unfortunately passed away a few years ago, and I and the rest of the team members are carrying forward his vision of this new technological sensing framework.
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