About Smart Sensing for Aviation


A cross-faculty team of researchers at TU Delft from Aerospace Engineering and Electrical Engineering are working on developing smart sensing for the aircraft and airports of the future. A new project, called Smart Sensing For Aviation, aims to improve the safety, security and efficiency over the life cycle of the aircraft and specifically when it is waiting to be boarded at an airport. The project has three interdisciplinary components, described below.

Efficient and Secure Airports

The first project called Efficient and Secure Airports aims to develop a method that finds a relationship between efficiency and security in the airport terminal. The goal of the project is to develop a method that assists airport management in decision making that concerns both efficiency and security. According to Prof. Ricky Curran, Head of Air Transport & Operations at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, “much is being done in the two separate fields of airport efficiency and airport security, but little research has been done in the intersection of the two fields”. The research team, which includes his colleague dr. Alexei Sharpanskykh and prof. Koen Langendoen from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, will develop a simulation tool that will simulate the movement of passengers at the airport terminal. To aid the development of this simulator, different types of data will be collected at the airport by using sensors. With the developed simulation tool, different scenarios and security setups at airports can be simulated. This will benefit airports, as they will then have a better understanding of how their customers move through and behave in the airport terminal. It will also provide airports with insights in the effects that (future) security decisions have on the overall efficiency of the airport.

Composite Factories of the Future

The second component, the Composite Factories of the Future, is looking into ways to use sensors in the manufacturing process in order to improve the process. According to Dr. Roger Groves, Head of the Aerospace Non-Destructive Testing Laboratory at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, the same smart sensors can be first used to improve manufacturing processes, then be used for structural health monitoring (SHM) of the aircraft in service.

For the duration of aviation history, airplanes have been primarily made out of metal. Now the industry is shifting towards using composite materials, which can be lighter and sturdier than metals. However, creating composites can be a challenge. Unlike metals which show their damage via visible cracks, damage to composite materials is often not visible and requires intensive quality checks throughout the life of the material. According to Dr. Rinze Benedictus, Head of the Structural Integrity Group at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, incorporating sensors into the materials as they are created will assist in the structural health monitoring of the components and reduce the need for continuous testing.

Ultrasonics SHM for Maintenance

Component three, called Ultrasonics SHM for Maintenance, seeks to develop parameters for sensor placement as well as frameworks for understanding the data those sensors create. While sensors on people may be new, sensors on planes are not. According to Dr. Groves, they are currently not fully designed and integrated with efficient maintenance and repair procedures. This is partly because of the challenges of handing large datasets, one of the challenges of the Smart Sensing For Aviation project.

Like the project component dealing with passenger tracking, the integrated sensors for processing monitoring and maintenance will generate large quantities of data, which will need to be processed. The researchers in the team from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, will play a key role in processing the data, based on their expertise in distributed signal processing and handling big data.

This project works closely with local aviation organisations and industry, including Schiphol Group, Fokker, Airbus Defence and Space, and others.

The project is sponsored by the Ministry of Economic Affairs as a part of the “Topsectoren” policy. The research team has received TKI-funding from the top-sector High Tech Systems and Materials for the Smart Sensing For Aviation Project.