Fire-detection systems incorporating multiple sensors that measure multiple parameters are being developed for use in storage depots, cargo bays of ships and aircraft, and other locations not amenable to frequent, direct visual inspection. These systems are intended to improve upon conventional smoke detectors, now used in such locations, that reliably detect fires but also frequently generate false alarms: for example, conventional smoke detectors based on the blockage of light by smoke particles are also affected by dust particles and water droplets and, thus, are often susceptible to false alarms. In contrast, by utilizing multiple parameters associated with fires, i.e. not only obscuration by smoke particles but also concentrations of multiple chemical species that are commonly generated in combustion, false alarms can be significantly decreased while still detecting fires as reliably as older smoke-detector systems do.

The present development includes fabrication of sensors that have, variously, micrometer- or nanometer-sized features so that such multiple sensors can be integrated into arrays that have sizes, weights, and power demands smaller than those of older macroscopic sensors. The sensors include resistors, electrochemical cells, and Schottky diodes that exhibit different sensitivities to the various airborne chemicals of interest. In a system of this type, the sensor readings are digitized and processed by advanced signal-processing hardware and software to extract such chemical indications of fires as abnormally high concentrations of CO and CO2, possibly in combination with H2 and/or hydrocarbons. The system also includes a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based particle detector and classifier device to increase the reliability of measurements of chemical species and particulates.

In parallel research, software for modeling the evolution of a fire within an aircraft cargo bay has been developed. The model implemented in the software can describe the concentrations of chemical species and of particulate matter as functions of time.

A system of the present developmental type and a conventional fire detector were tested under both fire and false-alarm conditions in a Federal Aviation Administration cargo-compartment-testing facility. Both systems consistently detected fires. However, the conventional fire detector consistently generated false alarms, whereas the developmental system did not generate any false alarms.

This work was done by Gary W. Hunter, Paul Greensburg, Robert McKnight, and Jennifer C. Xu of Glenn Research Center; C. C. Liu of Case Western Reserve University; Prabir Dutta of Ohio State University; Darby Makel of Makel Engineering, Inc.; D. Blake of the Federal Aviation Administration; and Jill Sue-Antillio of Sandia National Laboratories.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18067-1.