Micromachined flow sensors for velocity and pressure measurement
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This research focuses on developing sensors for properties of aerodynamic interest (i.e., flow and pressure) based on low-cost polymeric materials and simple fabrication processes. Such sensors can be fabricated in large arrays, covering the surface of airfoils typically used in unmanned vehicles, allowing for the detection of flow separation. This in turn potentially enables, through the use of closed-loop control, an expansion of the flight envelope of these vehicles. A key advance is compensation for the typically inferior performance of these low cost materials through both careful design as well as new readout methods that reduce drift, namely a readout methodology based on aeroelastic flutter. An all-polymer micromachined piezoresistive flow sensor is fabricated, based on a flexible polyimide substrate and an elastomeric piezoresistive composite material. The flow sensor comprises a cantilever that is extended into the embedding flow; flow-induced stress on the cantilever is sensed through the piezoresistive composite material. Increasing the sensitivity of the sensor is achieved by either utilizing a long single-cantilever beam or using a dual-cantilever beam supporting a flap extending into the flow. In the latter case, the sensor demonstrates increased sensitivity with a reduced cantilever length. The increase in sensitivity helps to reduce sensor drift, which in turn is further reduced by a new measurement method, the vibration amplitude measurement method. In this drift reduction measurement method, the flow-induced vibration amplitude of the sensor structure (i.e., the amplitude of the aeroelastic flutter induced by the flow), instead of the absolute value of cantilever deflection, is measured in order to find the flow rate. Measurement of this relative resistance change instead of the absolute resistance in the piezoresistor rejects common-mode drift and greatly reduces overall drift. Experimental results verify the expected drift reduction. Sensor drift is also reduced when the elastomeric piezoresistive material is replaced by a Pt thin film piezoresistor. Development of pressure sensors based on polymers proceeds by encapsulating a reference cavity within a multilayer polymer structure and forming capacitor plates on the polymeric membranes encapsulating the cavity. Measuring the capacitance change induced by changes in the embedding pressure (which cause changes in the positions of the bounding polymeric membranes) enables calculation of the pressure. The use of polymeric membranes requires understanding the leakage rate of gas into the reference cavity, which is a source of pressure drift. Developing a polymer-based pressure sensor that solves the problem of sensor drift as a result of gas permeation entails the fabrication of a silicon pressure reference cavity embedded in the polymer substrate, which results in a more hermetic and lower drift sensor while preserving the flexibility of the embedding polymer. Both wired and wireless versions of pressure and flow sensors of these types were developed and characterized. Further, the sensors were characterized on airfoils and their performance in a wind tunnel was determined.
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