An assembly that contains a sensor, sensor-signal-conditioning circuitry, a sensor-readout analog-to-digital converter (ADC), data-storage circuitry, and a microprocessor that runs special-purpose software and communicates with one or more external computer(s) has been developed as a prototype of "smart" sensor modules for monitoring the integrity and functionality (the "health") of engineering systems. Although these modules are now being designed specifically for use on rocket-engine test stands, it is anticipated that they could also readily be designed to be incorporated into health-monitoring subsystems of such diverse engineering systems as spacecraft, aircraft, land vehicles, bridges, buildings, power plants, oilrigs, and defense installations. The figure is a simplified block diagram of the "smart" sensor module. The analog sensor readout signal is processed by the ADC, the digital output of which is fed to the microprocessor. By means of a standard RS-232 cable, the microprocessor is connected to a local personal computer (PC), from which software is downloaded into a randomaccess memory in the microprocessor. The local PC is also used to debug the software. Once the software is running, the local PC is disconnected and the module is controlled by, and all output data from the module are collected by, a remote PC via an Ethernet bus. Several smart sensor modules like this one could be connected to the same Ethernet bus and controlled by the single remote PC. The software running in the microprocessor includes driver programs for operation of the sensor, programs that implement self-assessment algorithms, programs that implement protocols for communication with the external computer( s), and programs that implement evolutionary methodologies to enable the module to improve its performance over time. The design of the module and of the health-monitoring system of which it is a part reflects the understanding that the main purpose of a health-monitoring system is to detect damage and, therefore, the health-monitoring system must be able to function effectively in the presence of damage and should be capable of distinguishing between damage to itself and damage to the system being monitored. A major benefit afforded by the self-assessment algorithms is that in the output of the module, the sensor data indicative of the health of the engineering system being monitored are coupled with a confidence factor that quantifies the degree of reliability of the data. Hence, the output includes information on the health of the sensor module itself in addition to information on the health of the engineering system being monitored.
NASA Tech Briefs
Mahajan, Ajay Mohan, ""Smart" Sensor Module" (2007). Mechanical Engineering Faculty Research. 475.