Development of the Conscious Aircraft PhD


   School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing (SATM)


About the Project

Cranfield University’s IVHM Centre, with its industrial partners, has been considering the radical concept of a 'Conscious Aircraft'. What if the aircraft was conscious and could talk to us in the same way as we interact with a doctor? This would lead to a platform that was self-sensing, self-aware of its health, optimising maintenance plans seamlessly with operators and maintainers. Applications are invited from self-funded, innovative students who want to help develop ideas in this area, supported by an already developed Digital Twin platform, leading to the award of a Ph.D.

Maintenance of high value assets is a costly and time consuming business, with MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) costing £14B a year in civil aerospace alone. Historically, maintenance has been carried out on a scheduled basis, irrespective of a component’s wear or degradation. Condition Based Maintenance (CBM), only repairing / replacing a component based on its condition, is seen as a paradigm shift, and IVHM (Integrated Vehicle Health Management) as the capability that will enable it. As such IVHM covers a wide spectrum of technologies, from building business cases and examining standards and legislation to sensor technology and algorithm development. IVHM Centre physical applications range from benchtop experiments to Cranfield’s B737 aircraft.

At the IVHM Centre in Cranfield University, we are studying the maintenance and operation of the aircraft and we have been pondering the question: what if the aircraft was conscious? While this would clearly be a long term if we sought to replicate human consciousness, the examination of the question causes questioning of standard practices and new thoughts to arise. The use of the term ‘conscious’ enables aircraft to be thought as a human and so the analogy between a doctor and a human and a maintenance personnel and an aircraft can be brought to bear. A Conscious Aircraft would communicate with its operators and maintenance personnel seamlessly. This transformative platform would be self-sensing/ self-aware of its current health, reliably predicting its remaining useful life, and automatically reconfiguring to optimise and prescribe the future MRO actions to minimise cost and more towards a ‘zero maintenance’ platform.

In order to develop a Conscious Aircraft, an IVHM system should address various points which include (but not limited to): i) transform the aircraft to be self-aware of its health, ii) be capable of prescribing intelligent decisions for operations and MRO (Maintenance and Repair Organizations), based on the current and predicted health states of concerned systems, and iii) be able to establish seamless bidirectional communications with operators and engineers considering the Human-Machine Interface, to achieve ‘human-in-the-loop’ and ‘human-on-the-loop’ actions.

Developing methods and techniques to achieve at least one of the objectives of Conscious Aircraft is expected to have a transformative impact inside the aerospace industry, including the IVHM Centre and DARTeC partners. High quality papers will be published on the results and the candidate will submit for a PhD.

Cranfield is a unique learning environment with world-class programmes, unrivalled facilities and close links with business, industry and governments, all combining to attract the best students and teaching staff from around the world. In 2014, 81% of research at Cranfield was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent in the Research Excellence Framework (REF).The Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) Centre was founded by Boeing, and a number of aerospace partners (BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Meggitt and Thales), in 2008. It has grown to perform work in sectors such as transport, aerospace, rail, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. The Centre integrates a multidisciplinary research effort to develop cost effective component and system health management solutions, capable of supporting high-value, high-complexity applications. The IVHM Centre is a member of the Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC), which focuses its research on: aircraft electrification, connected systems, unmanned traffic management, seamless journey, distributed airport/airspace management, and a conscious aircraft project. Research England, Thales, Saab, Aveillant, Inmarsat, the IVHM Centre and Boxarr are some of the prominent members of DARTec. The potential Ph.D. candidate will have access to DARTeC facilities as well as those of the IVHM Centre.

Cranfield, the IVHM Centre and DARTeC are uniquely positioned in their creation of thought leadership. Coupled with world class facilities, and strong interaction with industrial partners, this makes it a very attractive place for anyone considering a career at the leading edge of engineering. It is expected that journal papers, and conference attendance to disseminate the results of the research, will follow. Training will be given in subject areas as required.

Upon successful completion of the project, the candidate will be able to carry out research activities independently, using analytic and logistic skills learnt during the PhD. Coupled with an understanding of the future landscape for aerospace, in MRO and commercial aircraft production, and contacts made with industrial partners, the candidate will broaden their employability scope appreciably.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have a first or second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline. This project would suit:

  • A graduate and post-graduate students with a degree in engineering (preferably in mechanical or aerospace), computer/data science, or any other related physical sciences subject.
  • Researchers and Engineers with a background/interest in maintenance and health management systems.

Ph.D. candidates should have software programming skills and familiarity with the aerospace (or target) sector. Above all, candidates with highly innovative approaches, good ideas, high motivation and willingness to learn are welcome.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge.

How to apply

If you are eligible to apply for this research studentship please complete the online application form.


References

https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/centres/digital-aviation-research-and-technology-centre/conscious-aircraft

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