Self-Driving Vehicles: Evaluating Damage and Wear with Smart Parts

Fiber optic sensors have unique characteristics such as their low profile, flexibility and resistance to chemicals and corrosion that make them uniquely suited for long-term and embedded applications. This creates an opportunity for a design to incorporate “smart parts” that can easily communicate their health to an inspector. Instead of relying on visual confirmation or disassembly of the vehicle to check on hard-to-get-to structural elements, an inspector could connect to fiber optic sensor leads tucked away in the vehicle and scan components for damage quickly and reliably.

Consider advanced self-driving vehicles, where no human needs to be present or attentive to operate. These are already on the roads in some areas. These machines can’t be viewed as only personal vehicles because they are ideal for fleets or shuttles that provide transportation services in populated areas. So there could quickly be large quantities of such vehicles without an individual owner who would be able to keep track of performance history.

On top of general wear and tear, no matter how smart the system, there will always be unpredictable and unavoidable impacts with varying levels of severity over the lifetime of a vehicle. A sudden large pothole, a deer that runs into the road, a human driver who bumps the vehicle … depending on the conditions, these events could be serious or trivial to the vehicle’s structural health. What if no one was present to witness the event? Can the condition of key components in the vehicle be quickly determined in that situation?

Fiber optic sensors are small and lightweight enough to embed within composite structures, thermoplastics and even metal components during manufacturing. Using embedded sensors to create “smart parts,” which can provide critical data from inaccessible areas, can be beneficial in countless applications providing access to valuable health monitoring throughout the entire life cycle of the part.

If your part could talk, what would it say about the vehicle’s structural health?

Download our White Paper Now! Measurement and Validation of Strain in New Materials and Complex Structures