Rolls-Royce teases a future where robots climb inside aircraft engines for repairs

The Rolls-Royce name conjures images of super expensive, super luxurious cars for the elite. The company is also big in aviation and is teasing a future where tiny robots will be used to maintain and repair its aircraft engines when needed. There are several types of robots and they would all be used for engine maintenance.

For these robotic devices Rolls teamed up with researchers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University among others. Together the universities and Rolls brought more elements of the Rolls IntelligentEngine vision to life with a range of potential future technologies that could be used in aviation repairs. The tech includes snake robots that slink through an engine to collaborative swarm robots that crawl through engines.

The SWARM robots are a set of tiny robots each about 10mm in diameter that could be put into the engine via a "snake" robot to perform visual inspection of hard to reach areas inside the engine. The bots would have tiny cameras to provide video feeds for techs to view engine internals without removing it from the aircraft.

INSPECT robots are a network of "periscopes" permanently embedded inside the engine that allows self-inspection using the cameras to report any maintenance requirements. These robots are the size of pencils and thermally protected from the extreme heat generated inside the engine. These bots are a partnership between Rolls-Royce, Oxsensis, BJR Systems, Roke Manor and the University of Nottingham.

FLARE robots are a pair of snake robots flexible enough to travel through the entire engine like an endoscope. They can then collaborate to patch damaged thermal barrier coatings. Remote boreblending bots are special machines controlled by engineers that can perform maintenance tasks like repairing damaged compressor blades using lasers to grind the parts. These bots would be remotely controlled by specialists from the Rolls-Royce Aircraft Availability Centre once placed into the engine by local non-expert techs preventing teams from having to travel.

SOURCE: Rolls-Royce