BAE Systems has announced a new technology that will allow its aircraft to "feel" damage.
The skin-like covering will plaster the plane in tens of thousands of micro-sensors which will be able to "feel" structural changes. They could also measure wind speed, temperature, strain and movement. Combined this will create a system that's able to spot serious damage from cracks before it happens. Or deliver damage reports during firefights so pilots can better assess their fighting prowess.
Further down the line this technology could prove useful in all walks of life. From cars knowing when they need to go in for an MOT to dams detecting small cracks before they become a problem. Even your home's pipes and boiler could work together, warming the pipes before they freeze and crack during the cold months.
The technology was created by senior research scientist Lydia Hyde after seeing her tumble dryer using a similar system to detect overheating. The sensors developed are self-powered and could be as small as particles of dust meaning they could be spray painted onto a surface.
Hyde told the BBC: "Observing how a simple sensor can be used to stop a domestic appliance overheating got me thinking about how this could be applied to my work and how we could replace bulky, expensive sensors with cheap, miniature, multi-functional ones. This in turn led to the idea that aircraft, or indeed cars and ships, could be covered by thousands of these motes creating a 'smart skin' that can sense the world around them and monitor their condition by detecting stress, heat or damage."
It's still very early days for this technology but it's an exciting development that could see inanimate objects become more self-aware. But not in the scary robot-overlord way we'd imagined.