UBC Okanagan scientists have developed a new sensor that detects and manages ice accumulation on aircraft in real-time.
Regarded as a game-changer when it comes to airline safety and efficiency, the new sensor can detect the precise moment when ice begins to form on a surface.
The sensor owes its genesis to two different research teams’ efforts within the university.
One of the teams was involved in designing the microwave sensors and microelectronics systems, while the other investigated ice-repellent materials and extreme liquid repellency.
The scientists chose microwave resonators in particular on account of their high sensitivity, low power usage, ease of fabrication, and planar profile.
The device, according to Assistant Professor Kevin Golovin, makes it easier to detect and manage ice accumulation on aircraft.
Both teams are unanimous in their verdict that the new sensor can help avert airline tragedies directly linked with icy airplane wings.
“The ice detection systems used today are quite rudimentary. For example, pilots visually detect ice on aircraft wings before de-icing in flight,” says Golovin.
Moreover, certifying that the aircraft is free of ice after de-icing is done by visual inspection, which is susceptible to human error and environmental changes, Golovin adds.
UBC’s planar microwave resonator sensors are simple traces of metal deposited onto a plastic, and yet they are mechanically robust, sensitive and easy to fabricate – explains Assistant Professor Mohammad Zarifi.
“The sensors give a complete picture of the icing conditions on any surface, like an airplane wing. They can detect when water hits the wing, track the phase transition from water to ice, and then measure the thickness of the ice as it grows, all without altering the aerodynamic profile of the wing.”
The pair, along with graduate students Benjamin Wiltshire and Kiana Mirshahidi, are the first to report on using microwave resonators to detect frost or ice accumulation.
Apart from detecting frost or ice accumulation, the reverse is also possible, explains Zarifi; the sensors can detect when ice is melted away during de-icing.
The sensitivity and precision of the sensors means the detection occurs in real time. According to the scientists, this could make both ground and in-flight de-icing faster, cheaper and much more efficient.
Image and content: UBC’s Okanagan News