How Luna’s Fiber Optic Technology Can Help the Racing Industry

Matt Wolfe
Chief of Staff
Lightwave Division

Motorsports teams face a variety of challenges every day.  A race car is not just one engineering problem, but a collection of inter-relating engineering problems.  Some of these problems are well understood while others are somewhat a mystery.  In order to learn and understand these unknown problems, race engineers need new tools and instrumentation that will allow them to make measurements that cannot be made by conventional data acquisition systems. 

Is This Technology New?

Although we have been developing new, disruptive technologies for over a decade, we are just now applying it to the motorsports industry.  Racing is a personal passion of mine and for several years I have been looking for the right time and the right way to adapt our fiber optic sensing capabilities to my personal race car.  In the past few months, we have released a product that has allowed us to recognize a fit for our technology in the world of motorsports.  We are now pursuing that opportunity and targeting our products to provide unique measurements that were never before possible.

This posting is the first in a series that will be dedicated to motorsports and the use of our products to perform specific measurements.  In early September, we will begin performing on-vehicle tests of our technology on my personal car: a 2002 Pro Modified Firebird purposely-built for drag racing.  The initial tests will be focused on the structural aspect of the car and investigating the strain induced on certain areas of the chassis as the car accelerates from 0 to 190 mph in approximately 4 seconds.

Photo courtesy of Wolfe Racing, LLC

Why use fiber optics in motorsports to perform measurements?

First, no other technology in the world can provide the types of measurements needed by the industry.  By using optical fiber, our technology can perform temperature and strain measurements along the length of a surface to which the fiber is attached.  Second, optical fiber is small, flexible and extremely lightweight; making it a perfect sensor for the weight-conscious motorsports industry.

What kind of measurements are we talking about?

Well, the possibilities are nearly limitless, so we will only mention a few in this initial post:

  • Chassis flex or twist
  • Temperature distribution inside the engine
  • Design optimization of mechanical structures
  • Fatigue testing of structures over time

To give a clearer idea of the capabilities of our technology, below is a basic depiction of the types of measurements that can be performed.  The colored stripe on the top of the tube is an indicator of the strain level.  Consider a round tube that has been instrumented with optical fiber on the top of the tube.  When a load is applied to the center of the tube with the ends fixed, the tube will deform (depending on the amount of load applied) and the strain will be measured by the optical fiber.  In the unloaded state (top image), the strain is uniform and zero across the full length of the tube.  When the load is applied upward exactly in the center of the tube, the tube will bend and the strain across the full length will again be uniform, but it will be non-zero (middle image).  However, a defect present in the tube will yield a strain measurement that is much higher around that defect (bottom image).  This is an especially important measurement when the defect is so small that it cannot be seen visually. 

What could you do with these types of measurements?  What could you learn?  What could you prove about your race car that you now can only speculate is happening?  How could you improve your performance?

Success in motorsports is measured by winning and that requires gaining every possible advantage on the competition.  Imagine the advantage that can be gained by having the ability to answer questions about your race car that other teams can only solve through simulation or conjecture.  The most expensive car doesn’t always win the race.  Rather it is typically the one that is backed by the best people and the best technology.

In our next article dedicated to applying our technology to motorsports, we will take a look at some of the results from our initial testing that will be performed on my personal race car.

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