Lockheed Skunk Works Spider finds tiny pinholes in airship envelope

Shane McGlaun - Jul 27, 2016
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Lockheed Skunk Works Spider finds tiny pinholes in airship envelope

Lockheed is working on something it calls a hybrid airship, which is essentially a massive blimp, designed for lifting and hauling heavy cargo into areas where there are no roads. The big benefit of this is that the hybrid airship is able to haul large loads but moves in the air faster than vehicles or ships move on land or water. These airships aren’t as fast as helicopters or aircraft though. The challenge for Lockheed is inspecting the envelope of these massive airships requiring a crew of people inside and outside the envelope of the airship.

The normal method of inspection has crews with massive lights walking on the envelope and finding leaks. To make this task faster, safer, and less time intensive Lockheed invented a very cool autonomous robot called Spider. Spider is able to scan the envelope, find pinholes, and then patches the holes. The self-propelled robot is very small and has two halves.

Half of the robot is on the inside of the envelope and a half on the outside and the two attach together using magnets and then can cruise around the inflated envelope looking for holes. The outer half of the little bot shines light on the surface of the airship, at the same time the inner half is able to detect pinholes because the inside of the envelope is dark and the light shines through.

When a hole is detected, the bot aligns itself over the hole, patches it, and sends the location of the repair to a central processing unit. An image of the repair is also sent so that the human operator can verify repairs. Multiple robots are used for this process and the location of the bots is tracked precisely so if one robot fails, the search pattern of the others can be changed to ensure the entire envelope is inspected.


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