Rolls-Royce, which is popular for its ultra-premium cars, is also famous for its jet engines. In fact, its engines power huge aircrafts like the 777 and 787.
Fixing an engine can be a tedious task, especially when it needs to be opened up. Not only is the process time consuming, but also expensive. Hence, Rolls-Royce has come up with a new idea to fix hard-to-reach places: the use of snake and insect-inspired robotics.
Rolls Royce wants to make a new SWARM robot– a tiny, beetle-like robot with four legs that can crawl inside airplane engines to inspect and repair them. This is part of the company’s Intelligent Engine vision, that has teamed up with the University of Nottingham and Harvard University.
The SWARM robots will be placed in their starting locations using FLARE—a pair of ‘snake’ robots that are flexible enough to travel through an engine.
Rolls-Royce says the robots act like an endoscope, slithering their way through the critical vehicle part to perform maintenance without causing any further damage.
The roaches would be around 15mm tall and weigh in at a few ounces. Onboard would be a camera, 3D scanning optics, and other specialized tools for maintenance tasks.
“They could go off scuttling around reaching all different parts of the combustion chamber. If we did it conventionally it would take us five hours; with these little robots, who knows, it might take five minutes.” Rolls-Royce technology specialist James Cell said.
When a jet engine needs to be inspected, it has to be demounted from the wing. The process is time-consuming and every minute the aircraft cannot fly, is a burden for airlines. The aim is to repair engines within hours instead of days.
The company is also working on a bore-blending robot that can be remotely operated for complicated maintenance tasks. This way, specialists do not need to actually visit the engine and the local team can simply activate the robot. Specialists can then remotely inspect and repair the engine.
The robots are still in the development stage but have given us a fair amount of idea where the industry is headed. Robotics is the next-generation frontier and it is amazing to see how nature is inspiring the same.