DARPA is Planning to Unleash New Extreme Heat Sensors That Could Revolutionize the Defense Industry

Pairing high-performance capabilities with the demands of extremely high temperatures, DARPA has announced it is developing a new variety of microelectronic sensors capable of maintaining high bandwidth and high-dynamic range even in the hottest environments.

Dubbed the High Operational Temperature Sensors (HOTS) program, the new DARPA effort seeks to produce technologies and systems “that perform at the edge of their capability instead of the limits of uncertainty,” according to HOTS program manager Benjamin Griffin, Ph.D.

While sensors are relied on in the production of many critical defense and industrial systems, environments like those with extremely hot temperatures place limitations on their functionality. The result is that technologies developed for use in such environments must be calibrated according to the temperatures the sensors can withstand, which may greatly reduce their overall performance potential.

“These systems have to be designed and operated with reduced performance and excessive margins,” Griffin said in a statement, adding that such technologies are “limited by the uncertainty of their thermal environments.”

As an example, sensors are used to gauge the dynamics occurring within hot environments for the development of next-generation turbine engines, requiring the ability to withstand temperatures that sometimes exceed as much as 1470 °F.

Generally, the only sensors currently used that are capable of withstanding extremely hot temperatures are transducers that are connected to other electronics that remain in cooler areas, which lack the essential dynamic capabilities demanded by temperatures present in the test of high-speed aircraft and other similar technologies.

Now, DARPA says the HOTS program will combine innovative materials and other technologies to produce more durable transducer and transistor technologies that can function without the necessity of coupling them to external thermally regulated electronics. Such breakthrough technologies “will enable critical operations that include monitoring stability and functionality in extremely hot system components,” according to a release describing the work.

Griffin points to recent advancements in automobile production, comparing it to a “nervous system of sensing” that has been developed in recent years, adding that DARPA’s new HOTS program will attempt to apply similar methodology and applications at larger scales, enabling a greater range of capabilities for future systems.

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at micah@thedebrief.org. Follow his work at micahhanks.com and on Twitter: @MicahHanks