Rolls-Royce Is Building Snake Robots to Fix Jet Engines
Engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce is pushing forward with new technology that uses robots to inspect and repair its turbofan engines. The company says the robots fit into an overall vision — dubbed IntelligentEngine — of how the future of jet engines will be built using new digital technology, from concept to design to service.
Snakes on a Plane
Rolls-Royce is developing two different snake robots to both view and make repairs to jet engines. COBRA is a single snake-style robot linked to a virtual reality setup that fully immerses an engineer in a Virtual Reality experience, so they can see exactly what the robot is seeing inside the engine. With the COBRA system, engineers are able to don a VR headset and take a look at and repair any engine anywhere on the planet remotely. A full concept demonstration is scheduled for 2020.
Along with COBRA is FLARE. FLARE is a pair of snake-style robots that work together to make repairs to thermal coatings inside of jet engines. These repairs can be completed without ever removing the engine from the aircraft wing. That will save time and result in fewer maintenance delays, which is good for passengers and airlines.
This year, engineers were able to use this technology to successfully repair an engine in a laboratory.
The third robotic technology that Rolls-Royce is developing is called SWARM. These tiny robots have the ability to work together to reach places deep inside a turbofan engine. The idea behind this technology is to give an operator a real-time view of the inside of the engine, allowing the operator to view areas of interest or flag items that might need repair — all without dismantling the engine first.
In fact, the SWARM robots just completed a major milestone: Harvard University and the University of Nottingham, partners in the SWARM program, have reported the tiny robots are able to successfully crawl upside down on engine components.
While none of these technologies are ready to be deployed to your home airport just yet, these concepts give us a glimpse of what's just around the corner when it comes to inspecting and repairing jet engines.