You are here

Integration of Onboard Distributed Flow Sensing Using AF Intellectual Property US9658087B1



OBJECTIVE: This is an AF Special Topic, please see the AF Special Topic instructions for further details. A Phase I award will be completed over 3 months with a maximum award of $75K and a Phase II may be awarded for a maximum period of 15 month and $750K. This topic will provide surfaces, in flow sensitive environments with large boundary layers, a low-power, low-footprint, distributed local-flowspeed via an applique or integrated network leveraging the Artificial Hair Sensor technology. The Artificial Hair Sensor technology was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory and is captured in patent AF patent US9658087B1. This technology is targeted to provide air vehicles with improved performance in gust alleviation, navigation in GPS-denied environment, and mapping of complex flows. Additional applicability exists for other high-performance flow measurements in the field where weight and power are highly constrained, such as the spoiler of Formula 1 car. Successful completion of Phase I and II will require the licensing if a workable product is to be sold to commercial or government organizations. This topic will reach companies that can complete a feasibility study and prototype validated concepts in accelerated Phase I and II schedules. 

DESCRIPTION: Recent advancements in sensor technology have led to a vision to embed sensor arrays inside airframes to achieve multifunctional capabilities to sense the conditions immediate around the air vehicle to alleviate gust, optimize flow, and provide directional velocity information. Distributed networks enable spatially varying and redundant sensing which improves awareness and robustness for traditional air vehicles, as well as emerging non-traditional components (seamless control surfaces, variable camber air foils, and morphing winglets). A sensor network should span very large areas, be easily integrated into the composites with negligible impact on the mechanical performance of the supporting structure, and rely upon sensors that are robust, low-cost, low-power, have a small footprint, high sensitivity, high bandwidth, and affordably produced. While research activities have been reported on structurally integrating sensors and their supporting system, more technology development efforts are needed to tailor and enhance the design for actual deployment. The goal of this solicitation is to develop the processing methods needed to produce flexible layers of boundary layer flow sensors, wires, electronics, and interconnects which can either be integrated with a structure by adhering them to an external surface as an applique, co-cured with an aerospace-grade epoxy structural composite, or via other means of embedding. Proposer teams shall demonstrate capabilities to design, fabricate and test the systems. 

PHASE I: Conduct a feasibility study, inclusive of Academia (specifically biologically-related labs), Industry, and Government labs to determine the technological, business, manufacturing and distribution viability of the current Artificial Hair Sensor concept for relevant applications (such as those listed above) and identify inherent integration and fabrication limitations. Propose alterations (if necessary) for updated sensor fabrication. 

PHASE II: Design, fabricate and test a prototype of flexible (or stretchable) applique including a network of flow sensors capable of integration within/on a complex shaped polymer composite and the required hardware and software. Perform proof-of-concept analysis and experiments that demonstrate the feasibility of a distributed, lightweight and flexible network of flow sensors and their supporting electronics. Develop the methodologies and processes for their implementation and usage on large composite or biological structures capable of sustaining structural integrity in relevant flow environments. Demonstrate the feasibility of flow monitoring in a simulated operational environment (wind-tunnel) and validate system performance. Develop the baseline methodologies for their integration into actual aircraft. 

PHASE III: Assess the integration of newly developed technology into a specific air vehicle component of Air Force interest. Begin the transition process for commercialization of technology into high-volume applications for a broader range of applications (formula 1 active flow suppression, air duct flow, strain sensing of bonded composites, etc.). 


1: Maschmann, M. R., Ehlert, G. J., Dickinson, B. T., Phillips, D. M., Ray, C. W., Reich, G. W., and Baur, J. W., "Application of Individual Hierarchical Carbon Nanotube Fuzzy Fibers in Artificial Hair Plugs for Air Flow Sensing," Adv. Mater., Vol. 26, No. 20, 2014, pp. 115026.

2:  Phillips, D. M., Ray, C. W., Hagen, B. J., Su, W., Baur, J. W., and Reich, G. W., "Detection of Flow Separation and Stagnation Points using Artificial Hair Sensors," Smart Materials and Structures, Vol. 24, 2015, pp. 115026.

3:  Su, W., Reich G. W., "Artificial Hair Sensor Designs for Flow Measurement of UAVs with Different Scales," Proc. SPIE - Sensors and Smart Structures Technologies, Vol. 9803, 2016, pp. 98031W.

4: Baur, Jeffery W., "CNT Synthesis In Confined Space And Use As Artificial Hair Flow Sensor", US9658087 B1, United States Patent and Tradmark Office, 23 May 2017,

KEYWORDS: Flow Sensing, Applique, Composites, Co-cured, Embedded Integrated Circuits, Artificial Hair 


Alexander Pankonien (AFRL/RQVC) 

(937) 713-7136 

US Flag An Official Website of the United States Government