WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
In the future we’ll see more maintenance jobs performed by robots of all sizes.
Typically engineers want to get bugs out of their creations but that’s not the case for Rolls Royce, the engineering company who are building everything from autonomous cargo ships and flying taxis to electric aircraft, who actually want more bugs not less. And they don’t just want a couple of bugs either, they want swarms of them and they want to be crawling all over the inside of the aircraft engines they make looking for and, eventually, fixing problems and doing routine engine maintenance. But these “bugs” they’re referring to aren’t software glitches, they’re tiny robots modelled after cockroaches and snakes that will scamper, “slither” and swarm over every part of the engines.
Rolls Royce announced their latest cockroach like maintenance bots at the Farnborough International Airshow and believe these tiny insect-inspired robots will save their maintenance engineers valuable time, up to 80 percent of their time, by serving as their eyes and hands within the tight confines of an airplane’s engine.
See them in action
According to a report the company also plans to mount a camera on each bot to allow engineers to see what’s going on inside an engine without have to take it apart and eventually they think they can even train their bots to complete repairs.
“They could go off scuttling around reaching all different parts of the combustion chamber,” said Rolls Royce technology specialist James Cell said at the airshow, “if we did it conventionally it would take us five hours, with these little robots, who knows, it might take five minutes.”
Rolls Royce created their prototypes with help from robotics experts at Harvard University and University of Nottingham, but even though they’re tiny they’re still too large to get into some of the nooks and crannies of the engines where the company think they’ll be the most useful.
Ultimately Rolls Royce wants to scale their robots down so they’re about half an inch tall and weigh just a few ounces which they think should be possible within the next couple of years, especially as we continue to see breakthroughs in the miniaturisation of everything from nanosized smartphone cameras and displays, which could soon be just atoms thick, and tiny computers that make even grains of rice look like skyscrapers by comparison.