Having worked with multinationals such as Ford, Du Pont and Seagate, George Irwin is applying his expertise to help develop novel technologies that could greatly benefit airlines, passengers and the environment.
How will next generation passenger aircraft differ from the planes we fly in today?
George, who is Professor of Control Engineering and Research Director of the University's Intelligent Systems and Control group, believes that one big difference could be that they have their own 'nervous systems' to greatly increase their performance, profitability and safety.
And to prove that concept is feasible, he and colleagues at the School's Institute for Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) and the universities of Sheffield, Leicester and Warwick, have recently completed work on two EPSRC projects awarded on behalf of a leading aircraft manufacturer.
That work showed that using 'active skin' technology devised at Queen's could result in savings of up to $3m per aircraft each year and an average reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of more than 12 per cent.
George won funding for the project in competition against consortia involving 50 other universities for what he describes as a "completely off-the-wall" response to the initial brief.
"The original problem we were asked to address was how to make aircraft more fuel efficient. We tackled the challenge by building on one common way of doing this, by reducing the amount of turbulence affecting an aircraft's wings. This decreases friction and drag and therefore the aircraft's fuel consumption," says George.
"What made our approach unique is that we proposed to reduce turbulence by using hundreds of one square millimetre wing-mounted patches, each of them containing sensorsActive skin technology devised at Queen's could result in savings of up to $3m per aircraft each year and an average reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of more than 12 per cent. and actuators connected wirelessly to a controller in the aircraft cockpit. This would effectively give the aircraft a 'smart skin' with the sensors detecting turbulence and the actuators responding to help counter it in real time through closed loop control.
"But then we took the concept one stage further by suggesting that as well as being used to regulate airflow, the patches could be fitted throughout the aircraft to provide a complete onboard health map and fault diagnostic system. The same technology could also be used to enable commercial aircraft to be controlled wirelessly by the pilot for the first time."
Throughout his research career, George has worked with a number of major multinationals. He was also technical director of Anex6, a University spinout company specialising in process monitoring systems for large chemical plants.
"Whether or not our technology will be adopted by aircraft manufacturers remains to be seen, however, the School's expertise in intelligent systems control and wireless technologies, coupled with our external partners' aeronautical engineering capabilities, certainly showed it is not only feasible, but that it is also of potentially enormous benefit to airlines, passengers and, ultimately, the environment."
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