Rolls-Royce Bug-Bots

The future of engine maintenance.

Rolls-Royce has teamed up with Harvard University and the University of Nottingham to build beetle-like robots that can maneuver within the tight confines of an engine. The so called ‘SWARM robots’ will be equipped with tiny cameras and gadgets for a live video feed and detailed mapping of the engine’s interior.

The UK engineering firm shared details about the project during a press conference at the Farnborough Airshow last week. The miniature robots are being built specifically for aeroplane engines and should improve maintenance time and engine availability.

According to James Kell, Rolls-Royce on-wing technology specialist, “It’s a much more efficient way of performing the same kind of inspection. If we did it conventionally, it would take us about five hours. If we did it like this, who knows, we could probably do [it] in five minutes.”

Prototypes have already been built, but as of yet they are still too large. The firm intend to scale them down to about 10mm in diameter; a representative asserted that this could be achieved within two years. So far the bots are at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 2.

For deployment, Rolls-Royce will utilize snake-like robots which were initially developed for patch repairs to damaged thermal barrier coatings. With a few modifications they should be able to hold SWARM robots as they weave their way into the guts of an engine. See video below:

Artists interpretation | Credit: Rolls-Royce