Harvard HAMR-E micro climbing robot is designed for jet engines

Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the SEAS have created a new insect-like miniature robot designed with sticky feet to climb around surfaces. Called the Harvard Ambulatory Micro-Robot with Electroadhesion (HAMR-E), the mini-robot was made to climb inside of jet engines for inspection purposes.

According to the university, Rolls-Royce approached the Harvard Microrobotics Lab about potentially developing micro-robots small enough to climb inside of jet engines. The idea is that the machinery contains thousands of components, making inspections a lengthy, tedious process that involves physically dismantling the unit.

Mini robots like HAMR-E could potentially reduce the amount of disassembly and time needed to inspect these engines. The robot measures only 4.5cm in length and weighs a little over a gram; as the video above shows, it has "sticky" feet that enable it to climb up and over conductive surfaces.

Unlike most other climbing robots, HAMR-E is able to climb upside down in addition to vertical surfaces. This is made possible, in part, by adhesive foot pads featuring insulated copper electrodes and electric fields that can be turned on and off. Because the robot's feet flex, it is able to handle uneven and curved surfaces, as well.

The video demonstrates the robot's special walking pattern, which ensures that three foot pads are firmly in place at all times — if it were to lift two or more legs at once, it would be too heavy to cling to the surface. So far, the robot has been successfully tested in a curved, inverted jet engine section, but additional refinements are underway.