Performance demands of future unmanned air vehicles will require rapid autonomous responses to changes in environment. Towards this goal, we expect that the next generation flight control systems will include advanced sensors beyond the contemporary array. One promising scenario correlates measurements of flow footprints over aircraft surfaces with aerodynamic data to aid navigation and feedback control algorithms. As a sensor for this concept, we construct artificial hair sensors (AHSs) based on glass microfibers enveloped in an annular, radially-aligned piezoresistive carbon nanotube (CNT) forest to measure air flow in boundary layers. This study includes an analysis of the sensitivity based on laboratory scale electromechanical testing.
The sensors in this work utilize nine micron diameter S2 glass fibers as the sensing mechanism for coupling to boundary layer air flows. The annular CNT forest resides in a fused silica microcapillary with electrodes at the entrance. The sensor electrical transduction mechanism relies on the resistance change of the CNT forest due to changes in both the bulk and contact resistance as a function of mechanical loading on the fiber. For the electromechanical analysis, the sensors are controllably loaded to measure both the force and moment acting at the base of the hair and the resulting deflection of the CNT forest inside of the microcapillary is measured to estimate the stress on the forest and the pressure between the forest and the electrode. The electrical responses of the sensors are compared to the mechanical state of the CNT forest. This work represents the development of a characterization tool to better understand and control the response of CNT based AHSs.