Flexible Arduino to monitor structural integrity of fighter planes?

February 6, 2018 | 12:39
Flexible Arduino to monitor structural integrity of fighter planes?
Flexible Arduino to monitor structural integrity of fighter planes?
Thinking of electronics in military applications, expensive systems made out of highly robust parts developed in ultra-secure laboratories in top-secret locations come to mind. Whatever you imagine, it will probably not be an Arduino-compatible board running a sketch created from a few buggy open-source libraries produced by a bunch of electronics enthusiasts in their spare time. And yet…

Flexible Arduino
Flexible Arduino takes advantage of flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing processes. (NextFlex Courtesy Photo) 

True, there are many high-quality and well-written open-source Arduino libraries available, but how many of them are “mil spec-ed”? Probably very few, if any, and running into them deep inside a fighter plane would surprise more than one. Yet the very serious Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has been working on exactly that.

Together with NextFlex, a consortium promoting conformable and stretchable smart products, the AFRL has developed a functional flexible Arduino-compatible board, which they claim to be the first of its type.

Using a simplified flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) manufacturing process (60% less manufacturing steps) the engineers managed to reduce the weight of the Arduino board by 98%. The flexible Arduino has a thin, flexible plastic sheet as circuit board on which the microcontroller is mounted without its case. Digital printing processes were used to create the connections between the SMT parts.

An Air Force Research Laboratory-led project in conjunction with NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Institute, has resulted in the first ever, functional samples of flexible Arduino circuit board systems made by using a flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing process, setting the stage for smart technologies for the internet of things (IoT) and sensor applications like wearable devices.

Because it is flexible the “Flexduino” [I made that name up, red] can be integrated with devices that may be flexible or curved in design or located in a difficult-to-access place, like a fuel tank sensor or sensors embedded in the wings that monitor the structural integrity of an aircraft. Wearable devices for monitoring for instance a pilot’s hydration status, glucose levels, heartrate and more are possible applications too.

The new Arduino system will be demonstrated by the NextFlex team at the 2018FLEX Conference in Monterey, Calif., Feb. 12 to 14, 2018. A working prototype will be on display in conjunction with a board plugged into a tester.
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