Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

On airplanes, fiber optics poised to reach new heights

20.09.2006
Safer, more reliable optical switches may replace electrical wiring in cockpits

In an effort to provide safer and more reliable components for aircraft, researchers have invented an optical on-off switch that can replace electrical wiring on airplanes with fiber optics for controlling elevators, rudders, and other flight-critical elements. Fiber-optics technology has already transformed life on the ground by replacing copper wire to transmit voice calls, Internet traffic, and other telecommunications. Now, engineers are preparing an important new fiber-optics application for liftoff, with their prototype switch ready for testing on real-life aircraft. The technology also has potential applications on the nation's highways, as a "weigh-in-motion" sensor for measuring the weight of fast-moving commercial trucks without requiring them to stop on a scale. The research is described by Zhaoxia Xie and Henry F. Taylor of Texas A&M University in the current issue of Optics Letters, a journal of the Optical Society of America.

Xie and Taylor's new optical device is simple, but vital for an aircraft: it's an on-off switch. It senses the press of a button from a pilot. Such switches are usually electrically based and require electrical wiring which could get complex and bulky with the many buttons in cockpits and throughout an aircraft. But a system based on a single optical fiber could potentially sense presses from hundreds of buttons simultaneously by detecting light signals coming from different buttons. The crucial component of the Texas A&M switch is called a fiber Fabry-Perot interferometer (FFPI). It consists of two parallel mirrors. When white light passes through the mirrors, some of it bounces between the mirrors, and some passes through. These light waves combine or "interfere" to produce a pattern. The interference pattern changes if the distance between the mirrors changes.

In the Texas A&M design, a small plank-like object, known as a cantilever, is bonded to the interferometer. The cantilever, in turn, is attached to a switch. Pressing the switch creates a force on the cantilever, which causes it to bend, changing the spacing between the mirrors and thereby altering the interference pattern. The altered interference pattern provides a signal to indicate that the switch has been pressed. This information can be transmitted optically to the desired part of the airplane. A network of other interferometers and lasers filters out fluctuations in temperature and other disturbances so that only the pressing of the button registers as a valid signal.

Using fiber optics to transmit signals has specific advantages for aircraft. A fiber-optics system is lightweight and does not take up much room. It is immune from lightning and electromagnetic interference. It also is a safer alternative for planes as it is not susceptible to causing fires. At least 26 accidents or serious incidents in aircraft since 1983 were caused by fires or other failures related to electrical wiring systems, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The fiber-optic approach is intended for both military and commercial aircraft. It could either be incorporated into new designs or retrofitted into existing aircraft. Voice communications equipment in newer aircraft is already fiber-optics based, says lead author Xie. Therefore, integrating other aircraft instrumentation into a single optics package could save weight, space, fuel, and construction costs on future aircraft.

Lockheed Martin has been among the supporters of this research. The next step is to test this system on a real airplane.

According to Xie, the technology also has potential applications for other modes of transportation.

"Due to the sheer value of car and truck traffic on our highways, current weighing systems using slow and cumbersome static scales aren't a viable option. Therefore there's a strong demand for an economic, effective and reliable 'weigh-in-motion' system," comments Xie. In the FFPI weigh-in-motion system, the optical sensors would be bonded in a groove of metal bars to measure the strain induced by the truck wheels passing. This could provide an alternative to cumbersome and time-consuming stops that trucks must currently make in highways, she says.

Angela Stark | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.osa.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University

nachricht Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>