Rolls-Royce Planning Robot 'Bugs' That Crawl and Fix Engines

The snake-like robots would crawl toward the engine to help diagnose hard-to-spot car issues.
Shelby Rogers
SWARM robotRolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce recently developed a unique solution to engine issues within planes. Rather than tear apart an engine, the company crafted robotics systems capable of crawling into the engine itself for repairs and diagnostics.

The Rolls-Royce engineering firm collaborated with the University of Nottingham and Harvard University engineers to create the endoscope-like robots. They presented the work at the Farnborough Airshow.

“We are in the process of developing a number of miniature devices that enable us to get inside the jet engine to perform inspections or repairs,” Dr. James Kell, on wing technology specialist at Rolls-Royce, said in an interview. “Repairs can be in the form of removing damaged material or putting material back on. To allow us to perform these repairs, we are working with an extensive network of partners to develop mechatronic probes — similar in nature to keyhole surgery techniques.”

The technologies themselves include a variety of robotics: 

- SWARM robots are a set of mini-bots roughly 10 mm in diameter that would be placed in the middle of an engine via a separate snake-like robot. SWARM bots would perform an inspection of hard-to-reach areas in engines by carrying tiny cameras for a live video view. 

- INSPECT robots would be a series of periscopes permanently attached to the engine that consistenly look for maintenance needs. These robots would be the size of a pencil and are crafted to withstand the consistent heat and exposure to the engine.

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- FLARE robots are snake-like robotics systems that travel through the engine like an endoscope

“All of these developments — and others that we have not presented yet — are exciting achievements in their own right,” Kell continued. “For example, imagine a damaged compressor blade in an engine in Dubai, a deployed remote boreblending robot would allow a person in Derby [in the U.K.] to repair it to get the engine back in service days quicker than the current approach.”

It's important to note that the Rolls-Royce in question here is not the one responsible for luxury cars. The British company Rolls-Royce Plc. is a different company entirety from Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. While we'd love to one day see these sorts of robotics systems help diagnose car troubles, we'll have to be content with plane engines for the time being. Kell said the applications for this style of robotics could go beyond airplanes. He noted in an interview that medical engineering and medical technology still inspires technologies used in repairing cars and planes.


“I imagine there could be some specific applications for these technologies in the auto industry if people were so inclined,” Kell said. “But the industry model is not quite as driven by long-term service agreements as yet. A lot of our technologies have their roots in the medical industry, and perhaps they may be able to be reapplied to healthcare [at some point in the future].”

In a statement, Richard Goodhead, Rolls-Royce, Senior Vice President – Marketing, said: “The advancements we are making in robotics are a great example of us bringing our IntelligentEngine vision to life. By exploring how we might use the rapid progress we are seeing in fields such as digital and robotics, we are ensuring that Rolls-Royce will continue to lead the way in service innovation, offering the very best value for our customers.”

Via: Rolls-Royce 

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