The engineering firm Rolls Royce has developed an endoscope-like robotics system to fix the engine issues of airplanes.

London-based aerospace engineering company Rolls-Royce has found a better solution to fix the engine issues of airplanes without tearing them apart. Together with engineers from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University, the company created robotics systems that are the size of bugs.

The tiny robots, inspired by snakes and insects, are capable of crawling inside the plane’s engine, making it easier to conduct diagnostics and repairs. The new tech is part of the company’s IntelligentEngine project and was shown at the Farnborough International Airshow.

“We are in the process of developing a number of miniature devices that enable us to get inside the jet engine to perform inspections or repairs,” James Kell, a Rolls-Royce on-wing specialist, said in an interview.

“Repairs can be in the form of removing damaged material or putting material back on. To allow us to perform these repairs, we are working with an extensive network of partners to develop mechatronic probes — similar in nature to keyhole surgery techniques.”

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The idea behind the robotics technology was that the snake-inspired robot could access the plane’s engine like an endoscope. Once inside the engine, it can deliver the swarm of bug-like robots that are about 10mm in diameter, allowing the critters to crawl and inspect the hard to reach parts of the engine for damages or problems.

“All of these developments — and others that we have not presented yet — are exciting achievements in their own right. For example, imagine a damaged compressor blade in an engine in Dubai, a deployed remote boreblending robot would allow a person in Derby [in the U.K.] to repair it to get the engine back in service days quicker than the current approach,” Kell added.

In a separate statement, Rolls-Royce Senior Vice President of Marketing Richard Goodhead proudly said that the advancements the company has been making in the field of robotics are just proof of how they are bringing to life the IntelligentEngine vision.

“By exploring how we might use the rapid progress we are seeing in fields such as digital and robotics, we are ensuring that Rolls-Royce will continue to lead the way in service innovation, offering the very best value for our customers,” he was quoted as saying.

Aside from fixing engines, where else do you think miniature and nature-inspired robotics systems could have potential applications?

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