LiDAR Technology Shows Potential for Improving Aircraft Safety
UI Idaho Falls researching how to use LiDAR technology to check aircraft for damage.
For several years, the University of Idaho has been using LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to study whether human visitors touching the stalactites and stalagmites in Sequoia National Park’s Crystal Cave are damaging the cave’s natural wonders.
It was during a demonstration of that effort that Lee Ostrom saw greater uses for the technology.
Now, UI Idaho Falls is in the midst of a multi-year project testing how the technology can be used to detect damage in composite aircraft. The goal is to create a system that can identify even the smallest damage, making air travel safer around the world.
The composite inspection effort began in 2004-05 as an offshoot of work the researchers were doing on fatigue crack growth as part of a $500,000 grant. It continued as part of a $36,000 feed grant from NASA. Now, UI Idaho Falls has applied for an $894,000 grant from NASA to continue the research on a commercial composite aircraft.
“If you watch people do visual inspections of aircraft, they’re looking at the underside of the wings, the part of the fuselage that they can see, they’re really not inspecting the whole aircraft for damage,” said Ostrom, academic director and associate dean for UI Idaho Falls. “Using this technology, you could scan the complete aircraft relatively rapidly.”
That ability could mean detecting surface damage — often indicative of a larger problem to the composite material — before it causes a problem at altitude.
Partnering with UI Idaho Falls in the project is the Idaho National Laboratory, which allows the researchers to use its Computer Assisted Virtual Environment at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies to study the scanned data.
Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications and Marketing