In a bid to revolutionise the way engines are maintained and repaired, Rolls-Royce is developing what can only be described as a tiny robot cockroach, that can crawl inside aeroplane engines and fix them.
The tiny robot is kitted out with a camera as well as a 3D scanner, these tiny robots would allow engineers to remotely assess problems before tooling them with the necessary equipment to correct the problem.
The robots are part of Rolls-Royce’s Intelligent Engine project; a venture announced earlier this year which aims at developing connected engines with the potential to repair themselves. The tiny robot – or SWARM robot as it is actually called – is one of four technologies being developed to fulfil various needs within the engine. Another is FLARE; a snake-like robot that can travel through the engine environment like an endoscope, teaming up with others to patch up damaged thermal barrier coatings.
These 10mm-long creatures would be able to stream a live feedback to the operator via a small camera for visual inspection, as well as carrying out the important job of carrying the roach-like SWARM robots to the centre of the engine.
Rolls-Royce is also developing a pencil-thin INSPECT robot which could be permanently built into the engine. these thermally protected 'periscopes' would help to monitor the engine’s health by collecting data and beaming it back to the operations centre.
Rolls-Royce says it is also working on robotic Boreblending robots, which would enable non-expert 'local' teams to carry out complex maintenance tasks by installing the device. Once inside the engine, a dedicated expert back in Rolls-Royce’s aircraft availability centre could take control rather than needing to travel to the location of an aircraft needing maintenance.
"While some of these technologies, such as the SWARM robots, are still a long way from becoming an everyday reality, others, such as the remote Boreblending robot, are already being tested and will begin to be introduced over the next few years," said Dr James Kell, Rolls-Royce on-wing technology specialist. "We have a great network of partners who support our work in this field and it is clear that this is an area with the potential to revolutionise how we think about engine maintenance."
Short animations of the 'snake-like' robot can be seen below, and the rest of the conceptual animation videos can be seen on their vimeo page - https://vimeo.com/rollsroyceplc