Boeing Patent Application to Help Detect Infectious Disease

The Boeing Company is an American-based multinational developer and manufacturer of defense and aerospace technology. Long renowned for being a commercial jet designer, the Chicago-based corporation is also heavily involved in the military aircraft, computer systems and munitions industries. Recently, the first major purchase of Boeing’s newest commercial airliner, the 787 Dreamliner, by Singapore Airlines has bolstered the company’s outlook after the jumbo jet liner was plagued with engineering issues over the past year.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is often publishing applications and awarding patents to Boeing for their technological developments for aircraft. This week on IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we take a look at some of Boeing’s most intriguing recent patents and applications. Two patent applications would protect safer on-board plane mechanisms for jam-proof mechanical wing assemblies and leak-proof cryogenic fuel tanks.

Other applications showcase Boeing’s focus on passenger safety. One application released recently describes Boeing’s development of an air filtering system that is responsive to the presence of airborne contagions. Another application describes a sensor system that can provide accurate readings of runway conditions, scanning for potholes or other surface degradation.

One patent awarded to Boeing, and featured here, protects a scanning system, likely for military purposes, which can provide more accurate detection of an object of interest within a geographic area.


Infectious Disease Detection System
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130130227

 Each year, more than one billion people travel on an airplane, crossing thousands of miles in just hours. One concern that’s been raised in the past over this type of mass transit is the ease with which infectious diseases can cross continents and infect those in other countries. Managing on-flight air quality through constant air filtering, as well as the use of face masks, can greatly reduce the chance that an infected individual can infect others.

Boeing’s improved system of managing infectious disease applies the air quality filtering concept to other passenger areas of an airport. Sensors used to detect air quality would be installed in areas of an airport where passengers congregate for any length of time. Sensor data is analyzed and could trigger contagion management through air filtering and other means if infectious diseases are present.

Claim 1 of this Boeing patent application would protect:

“A method for managing a zone, the method comprising: obtaining information about an environment in the zone with a sensor system; determining, by an analyzer system, whether a contagious condition is present in the zone using the information from the sensor system; and performing, by a management system, an action in response to the contagious condition being present.”

Device for Controlling Stress in Joints at Cryogenic Temperatures and Method of Making the Same
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130136527

Fuels used for launch vehicles or spacecraft may be stored on an aircraft to support long periods of travel. These fuels often must be stored at cryogenic temperatures of around -238 degrees Fahrenheit. Cryogenic fuel tanks can be used to store these fuels at cryogenic temperatures, and advances in aircraft fuel systems allow for composite tanks that can store the same amount of fuel of other tanks that weigh much more. However, when these composite tanks reach diameters of 14 feet or more, stress on the joints within the composite tanks can create a leak.

Boeing is hoping to protect the design of a softening strip that would be installed into cryogenic fuel tanks to ease the load transfer between joints when structural stress occurs. The softening strip is created of microfibers composed of either graphite, glass, metal or other types of fibers. The fibers are held together by a plastic binder that can remain elastic at temperatures under -150 degrees Fahrenheit.

As Claim 1 explains, this patent application would protect:

“A device for controlling stress in a joint between two surfaces, comprising: a three dimensional fabric adapted to be placed in the joint, the three dimensional fabric having fibers coated with a plastic binder.”

Runway Condition Monitoring
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130127642

Having knowledge of current runway conditions is of the utmost importance to airlines and airport personnel. Potholes, unruly weather and other conditions can threaten the safety of a landing or takeoff. Typically, runway conditions are noted by pilots when landing or taking off and are reported to air traffic control personnel. However, the cockpit doesn’t provide the most advantageous view for noting runway issues, and pilots are often busy with other important procedures

This system of monitoring runway conditions, for which Boeing has submitted a patent application to the USPTO, would utilize a number of sensors residing underneath the aircraft, in front of the landing gear. These sensors would record imaging, light detection and radar data, which could provide useful information on runway degradation. An on-board computer system would analyze the sensor data to determine the current condition of the runway.

Claim 1 of this patent application would give Boeing the right to protect:

“A method for monitoring a runway, the method comprising: receiving data about the runway from a number of sensors associated with an aircraft while the aircraft performs an operation on the runway; identifying a number of conditions for the runway using the data received from the number of sensors.”

Jam Protection and Alleviation for Control Surface Linkage Mechanisms
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130134262

During landing and takeoff, there are many mechanical assemblies on an airplane that must be operated to ensure passenger safety. In particular, the ailerons and flaps that reside on the back side of the airplane wings must be lifted and lowered at crucial moments to provide the correct amount of drag. Many of these assemblies are jam-tolerant and are constructed with redundancies in case of a mechanical jam, but some pieces known as “flaperons” do not yet have many protections against these jams.


Boeing has developed a drive linkage that can provide redundancy within a flaperon or other movable wing assemblies, either on the leading or back edge of the wing, in the case of a jam. The drive linkage connects two subassemblies that rotate, providing mechanical operation of the flaperon in the event of a jam or other sort of structural failure. According to Boeing’s patent application, this device has applications in folding gear doors and other mechanical assemblies within an airplane.

As Claim 1 explains, Boeing wants to protect:

“ An apparatus comprising: first and second rotatable subassemblies respectively pivotably coupled to a support structure; a drive linkage which links the first rotatable subassembly to the second rotatable subassembly so that rotation of the first rotatable subassembly drives rotation of the second rotatable subassembly, the drive linkage comprising first and second links, a first joint which pivotably couples the first and second links to each other, and a second joint which pivotably couples the first link to the first rotatable subassembly; an actuator pivotably coupled to the support structure and to the first rotatable subassembly, the actuator when activated producing a force urging the first rotatable subassembly to rotate relative to the support structure; and a cam track structure mounted to the support structure, the cam track structure comprising first and second cam surfaces, wherein the first and second joints of the drive linkage are trapped in the first and second cam surfaces respectively of the cam track structure, and wherein at least one of the first and second links comprises a weakened portion which is designed to fail when a structural overload is produced due to jamming.”

Beam-Scanning System
U.S. Patent No. 8451174

Boeing is also a major developer in the defense industry, where scanning systems for locating objects or individuals of interest are of great importance. Current methods employed by groups searching for an object in a field of regard (FOR) use antennas of either the dipole or the parabolic reflector variety. Dipole antennas detect in all directions, making it hard to narrow results to a specific FOR. Parabolic reflector-antennas are more precise, but do a poor job of picking up information on object movement.

Boeing was awarded a patent this week from the USPTO for a beam-scanning system of detecting objects within an FOR. A phased array in this Boeing system picks up a radio frequency transmitted from the object of interest. The beam-scanning system can pick up information on movement and direction of multiple objects of interest within one FOR. This information can then be transmitted to an external computer system for further use.

As Claim 1 explains, Boeing has been awarded the right to protect:

“A computer-implemented method for locating and tracking one or more objects of interest, comprising: scanning a field of regard (FOR) with a multiple-beam pattern using one of a spiral search pattern and a raster scan pattern for the one or more objects of interest simultaneously; receiving signals emitted from the one or more objects of interest; processing the received signals to determine a time delay between two signal receiving elements of a wave front emitted from at least one object of interest; and determining the location and direction from the at least one object of interest based on determining the time delay between the two signal elements of the wave front of the processed signals.”


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