Military Embedded Systems

Sensors that can take the heat sought by DARPA


May 18, 2023

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Sensors that can take the heat sought by DARPA
DARPA graphic.

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is on the hunt for sensors that can handle extreme environments: its new High Operational Temperature Sensors (HOTS) program will work toward developing microelectronic sensor technologies capable of high-bandwidth, high-dynamic-range sensing at extreme temperatures.

The agency cites examples of sensors that are not optimized to handle extreme temperatures: During development of next-generation turbine engines or high-speed flight, thermal restrictions can hamstring progress; one instance is that of high-performance pressure sensors, which are needed to capture complex flow dynamics in extremely high temperature environments (i.e., 800 °C or 1,472 °F).

Today, sensors that can withstand thermally harsh conditions are limited to low-sensitivity transducers located in hot zones coupled by way of noisy electrical connections to remote, temperature-constrained, silicon signal-conditioning microelectronics in cold zones. Such integrated sensors lack the combination of frequency bandwidth and dynamic range essential for high-temperature missions. Physical sensors that can overcome these limitations and optimally perform in high-temperature environments without additional thermal management will facilitate critical operations that include monitoring stability and functionality in system components that run extremely hot. The HOTS program hopes that combinations of emerging materials, fabrication techniques, and integration technologies that inform new types of transistors and transducers will emerge from the program. 

“Many of the defense and industrial systems that rely on sensors experience harsh environments beyond the capability of today’s high-performance physical sensors. That means these systems have to be designed and operated with reduced performance and excessive margins – they’re limited by the uncertainty of their thermal environments,” said Dr. Benjamin Griffin, program manager for HOTS. “However, if we can design, integrate, and demonstrate high-performance physical sensors that can operate in high-temperature environments, we can advance toward systems that perform at the edge of their capability instead of the limits of uncertainty.”

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U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

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