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Lightweight Fiber Optic Sensors for Real-Time Strain Monitoring

To improve efficiency and safety in aerospace, civil engineering, transportation, oil and gas, renewable energy, and medicine

Innovators at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center have developed a lightweight, robust fiber optic sensor system that represents a major breakthrough in sensing technology. The sensors, along with NASA's sophisticated algorithms, can be used to calculate a variety of critical parameters, including shape, stress, temperature, pressure, strength, and operational load. This state-of-the-art sensor system is small, lightweight, easy to install, and fast—it processes information at rates of 100 times per second. For the first time ever, real-time strain measurements can be used to determine the shape of an aircraft's wing, monitor the structural integrity of bridges and pipelines, or ensure precise placement of the tiniest catheters, to name just a few potential applications.

Additional technical details are presented below. For more information about this licensing opportunity, please contact us by phone or email: (919) 267-1200,

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  • High resolution: Thousands of sensors can be placed at half-inch intervals for more comprehensive imaging than previously possible
  • Fast: Provides a 100-Hz refresh rate to enable real-time strain monitoring
  • Small and lightweight: Uses virtually weightless sensors and hardware the size of a shoebox
  • Comprehensive data: Calculates shape, stress, temperature, pressure, strength, and operational load
  • Non-intrusive: Uses a monitoring fiber that does not affect performance
  • Easy to install: Installs more quickly than conventional strain gauges and in regions previously inaccessible
  • Robust: Resists radiation and electromagnetic/ radio frequency interference

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The invention is applicable to lightweight, flexible structures of any nature. The sensor arrays are virtually weightless and can provide enormous numbers of engineering measurements at 0.5-inch spacing. Because the spatial resolution provided by the fiber-optic sensors mimic biological systems, the applications are far-reaching and include:

  • Aerospace: Tracking structural shapes and aircraft frames, hydraulic hoses, and flexible booms
  • Automotive: Studying truck or automobile frames to improve safety or actively control handling
  • Structures: Monitoring the overall health of structures such as bridges and dams that undergo constant stress
  • Wind Turbines: Monitoring blade shapes and force to improve efficiency and longevity
  • Medical: Determining shape and pressure in non-invasive surgery and probes
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Technology Details

This innovation initially was developed in response to a highly significant requirement for Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Safe operation of UAVs requires accurate, real-time, in-flight determination of the shape of their highly flexible and highly deformable wings.

The technology provides accurate and comprehensive measurements of structural shape changes for multiple locations on large structures that are undergoing displacement while in service. Although the wing shape algorithms can be applied to any structure, they are particularly applicable to lightweight, flexible structures that produce large structural deflections and where weight restrictions exist.

How it works

The technology employs ultra-efficient, real-time, data-driven structural deformation algorithms, based on analytical methods in conjunction with highly multiplexed strain and temperature sensors. The sensors feed strain and temperature measurements into the system’s algorithms, that then determine out-of-plane deflections in real time.

Why it is better

This Armstrong innovation offers significant advantages over current sensing technologies. It provides the capability to acquire a large number of accurate surface strain, temperature, and displacement measurements in real time for large structures that are undergoing a wide range of displacements during operation. Data acquisition is possible with a minimal weight penalty. Furthermore, this is the only technology available that can provide out-of-plane structural deflection, local strain, and temperature measurements in real time. Some sensors exist that provide multi-parameter sensing (pressure, strain, temperature), but none of them offer a validated, shape-sensing capability.


Armstrong has one patent issued (U.S. Patent No: 7,520,176(link opens new browser window)) and two others are pending for this technology.

Additional information

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Commercial Opportunity

This technology is part of NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program, which seeks to transfer technology into and out of NASA to benefit the space program and U.S. industry. NASA invites companies to consider licensing this Method for Real-Time Structure Shape Sensing (DRC-006-024 and DRC-008-023) for commercial applications.

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For More Information

For more information about this licensing/development opportunity, please contact us by phone or email: (919) 267-1200,

For information about other technology licensing opportunities, please visit:

Technology Transfer Office
NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center (link opens new browser window)

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This technology is owned by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center
DRC-006-024 (DR-0001)