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Making machines more human
Making machines more human

We are one step closer to machines developing their own consciousness and overthrowing us. British defence company and security contractor BAE Systems have developed a smart sensor that will enable aeroplanes to detect damage, much like human skin. Dubbed ‘smart skin’, it consists of tiny sensors, or ‘motes’, which monitor factors like temperature and wind speed.

“Observing how a simple sensor can be used to stop a domestic appliance overheating got me thinking about how this could be applied to my work and how we could replace bulky, expensive sensors with cheap, miniature, multi-functional ones,” says Lydia Hyde, the creator of the technology. “This in turn led to the idea that aircraft, or indeed cars and ships, could be covered by thousands of these motes creating a ‘smart skin’ that can sense the world around them and monitor their condition by detecting stress, heat or damage. The idea is to make platforms ‘feel’ using a skin of sensors in the same way humans or animals do.”

While originally conceived for planes, smart skin could easily be adapted for a wide range of uses, and has the potential to disrupt the auto industry. Jennifer Cole, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services think tank, believes that this technology could be used to detect hairline cracks in dams, and prevent pipes from freezing and bursting during the winter. “If similar technology could be applied to cars,” she says, “it could revolutionise MOT schedules and potentially reduce road accidents.”

In addition to smart skin, BAE Systems is also developing a system called ‘Survivor’, which consists of an exterior network of carbon nanotubes, and is reported to give planes the ability to ‘heal’ themselves mid-flight. Next thing you know, they’ll have created a plane that is capable of serving your in-flight meal.

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