The FOSS technology developed at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center represents a major breakthrough in high-speed operational monitoring and sensing technology. Driven by ultra-efficient algorithms, FOSS can be used to determine in real time a variety of critical parameters, including strain, shape deformation, temperature, liquid level, strength, and operational loads. The system processes information at rates up to 5,000 times per second, representing a 1,000-fold improvement over conventional fiber optic technologies. In addition, it offers unprecedented levels of data density, as each 40-foot hair-like optical fiber provides up to 2,000 data points with adjustable spatial resolution.
To achieve these revolutionary capabilities, FOSS employs fiber Bragg grating (FBG) sensors and a combination of optical frequency domain reflectometry (OFDR) for high spatial resolution and wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) for high acquisition speed, together with an interferometer technique that can simultaneously interrogate thousands of FBG sensors in a single fiber. This state-of-the-art sensor system delivers reliable measurements in the most demanding environments confronted by the aerospace, engineering, automotive, and energy sectors.
- Highly accurate: Scans 8 channels simultaneously; with up to 2,000 sensors per fiber, the multiplexing system can calculate 16,000 measurements at once
- Powerful: Ultra-efficient algorithms and high-speed processing platform allow for rapid processing of data, enabling real-time analysis
- Ultra-fast: Processes information up to 100 samples per second (OFDR) and 5,000 samples/sec (WDM)
- Lightweight: Weighs just 10 pounds and operates on 16 to 30 volts of DC power or 120 volts of 60 Hz AC power
- Flexible: Outputs data in a widely recognized standard, enabling users to port data into any third-party software
- Non-intrusive: With thousands of sensors on a single fiber, sensors can be placed at 1/4-inch intervals (e.g. within bolted joints and in composite structures), enabling precise, high-resolution measurements in locations where conventional strain gauges will not fit
- Rugged: Works in environments with stringent limitations on physical space and power consumption and does not use electric current so can be safely used in environments with explosive gases such as off-shore oilrigs
- Environmentally friendly: Replaces with flexible glass the copper wiring, coating materials, and metal sensing parts of conventional sensing systems
The FOSS technology is ideal for monitoring the structural health of aircraft, buildings, and dams; improving the efficiency of turbines and industrial equipment; detecting instabilities within tunnels and power plants, and much more.
- Real-time structural monitoring for complex bending modes of in-flight aircraft
- Monitoring temperature, strain, load, and cryogenic liquid levels in aerospace launch vehicles
- Monitoring thermal/structural health of satellites
- UAV flight refueling
- Flight testing
- Aeroelastic feedback control
- End-of-life-cycle decision making
- Structural design
- Embedded-fiber design and monitoring
- Maintenance scheduling
- Strain and temperature monitoring for industrial borescope usage in drilling and exploration
- Strain, shape, and temperature monitoring of next-generation seismic processing instruments used for the exploration of future drill sites
- Temperature and liquid level monitoring of fluid storage tanks
- Nuclear power plant vibration and temperature monitoring
- Higher oil and gas-reserve extraction
Transportation and Infrastructure
- Structural health monitoring of buildings, bridges, off-shore oil rigs, and dams
- Monitoring the structural health of moving vehicles
- Load balancing on cargo ships and oil tankers
- Monitoring hulls of tankers and naval vessels
- Studying truck and automobile frames
Medical and Surgical Maneuvers
- Procedures involving endoscopes
- Placement and monitoring movement of tiny catheters
- Robotic surgery
- Vascular procedures and detection
- Precision biopsy
The advantages of fiber optic sensors over their conventional counterparts are well established; they are lighter, smaller, and can provide enormous numbers of measurements at a fraction of the total sensor weight. NASA Armstrong’s FOSS technology combines ultra-efficient algorithms with a high-speed processing platform to enable multiple critical parameter measurements to be determined with a single instrumentation system.
How It Works
NASA Armstrong’s novel approach to fiber optic sensing utilizes FBG sensors. The real strength of lightweight FBGs resides in its capability to be multiplexed serially. This means that a single optical fiber can contain thousands of discrete FBG sensors along its length using the OFDR or WDM multiplexing scheme. A narrowband wavelength swept laser interrogates the FBG sensors as they respond to strain resulting from stress or pressure on the structure.
The real-time algorithms and processing system measure strain at multiple locations along the length of the fiber while attached to the surface of a structure. The strain data can be correlated into displacement data, thereby displaying the shape and movement of the optical fiber (and therefore the shape and movement of the attached structure). The system calculates deformation at each measurement location in real time while the vehicle, device, or structure is in service. FOSS detects changes during operation without affecting the intrinsic properties of the structure to which it is attached.
The end result is that strain can be displayed in real-time as the optical fiber is being moved. From these strain measurements, the system calculates 2D and 3D shape, stress, temperature, pressure, strength, stiffness (bending and torsion), liquid level, and operational load. Weighing just 10 pounds, the system is ideal for use in numerous aerospace applications, such as aboard small UAVs, aircraft, and space vehicles, in addition to a wide variety of uses in medical, transportation, energy, and engineering fields.
The vision of FOSS is that sensors can be distributed in vast networks analogous to the nervous system in the human body. In the case of an aircraft, information from these sensory networks could be fed to on-board or central processing computers, which in turn could provide instructive information to pilots, maintenance crews, or other key decision-makers responsible for ensuring vehicle performance over the vehicle’s life cycle.
Why It Is Better
Traditional sensing systems are heavily based upon the production and use of copper wire, significant amounts of coating materials, and metal sensing parts. To achieve the same number of sensing points as the FOSS system, conventional systems would comprise hundreds of pounds of metals and plastics. In contrast, FOSS can acquire a large number of key engineering measurements in real time for large structures that are undergoing a wide range of displacements during operation. Fiber optic sensors also have a safety advantage because they are chemically inert and, unlike conventional sensors, are immune to electromagnetic interference and are not susceptible to sparking or Joule heating. Because of their small size, these sensors can also be embedded within composite materials. FOSS accomplishes all this with a few ounces of flexible glass inside a 10-pound robust platform.
Stresses, structural instabilities, temperature distributions, and a plethora of other engineering measurements can be monitored in real time with a single instrumentation system.
Fiber Optics Sensing System: A New Technology for Measurement
This video shows the technology’s current uses in aircraft research and design, as well as highlights its potential applications beyond the aerospace industry.
Licensing and Partnership Opportunities
Armstrong Fiber Optic Sensing Technologies
- Real-Time 3D Shape Rendering
- Streamlined Liquid Level Sensing Using Fiber Optics
- Sensing Magnetic Fields with an Innovative Optical Waveguide Fiber Bragg Grating
NASA invites companies to consider opportunities to license technologies in the FOSS portfolio. In addition, Armstrong’s FOSS team continues to explore novel applications and welcomes potential collaborators to discuss opportunities for research partnerships.
Licensing Opportunity Webinar Video
NASA Tech Briefs held a webinar on February 21, 2013 describing the fiber optic shape sensing technology and licensing opportunity.
Skip to specific sections by clicking the controls in the lower bar of the video. Sections include:
- Welcome and Introductions
- Presentation of Technology by Lance Richards
- FOSS Current and Future Work
- Licensing Opportunities
- Questions and Answers
In addition to these patented technologies (U.S. Patents 7,520,176;→, 7,715,994→, 8,700,358;→, and 8,909,040;→), Armstrong is pursuing patent protection for seven additional innovations within the fiber optic sensor portfolio.
The FOSS portfolio has been recognized with an R&D 100 Award as well as regional and national Federal Laboratory Consortium Excellence in Technology Transfer awards. The technology is a runner-up to NASA’s Commercial Invention of the Year.
- Power of Armstrong's fiber optic sensing capabilities is proven in systems developed by 4DSP→ for fiber optic sensing and 3D shape rendering
- 4-minute video about the technology→
- Armstrong X-Press article: "Parker's Algorithm Shatters a Technology Barrier"→
- "Real-Time In-Flight Strain and Deflection Monitoring with Fiber Optic Sensors" presentation→
Contact us to learn how Armstrong's fiber optic sensors can help your company stay ahead of the competition.
Technology Transfer Office
NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center
PO Box 273, M/S 1100
Edwards, CA 93523-0273
Phone: (661) 276-3368