Robotics

Aircraft-inspecting robot successfully climbs a 737

Aircraft-inspecting robot succ...
The Vortex Robot moves across the engine cover of a Boeing 737
The Vortex Robot moves across the engine cover of a Boeing 737
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Part of the Vortex Robot research group, from the left: Georgios Andrikopoulos, postdoc; Andreas Papadimitriou, PhD student; Angelica Brusell, PhD student; and Prof. George Nikolakopoulos
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Part of the Vortex Robot research group, from the left: Georgios Andrikopoulos, postdoc; Andreas Papadimitriou, PhD student; Angelica Brusell, PhD student; and Prof. George Nikolakopoulos
The Vortex Robot moves across the engine cover of a Boeing 737
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The Vortex Robot moves across the engine cover of a Boeing 737

Currently, when aircraft need to be inspected for structural damage, people perform the task manually. While this does provide them with employment, it's also time-consuming, costly, and subject to human error. For this reason, a fuselage-climbing robot is being developed to do the job.

Known as the Vortex Robot, the device is the focus of the CompInnova project, which involves five European research groups.

The plan is that the four-wheeled robot will ultimately be able to wirelessly and autonomously move across the entire outside of an airplane, using integrated sensors such as thermal cameras and ultrasound units to search for defects. In some cases, it would also be able to use drills, lasers or other onboard tools to perform repairs.

The current prototype was recently trialled on a Boeing 737 airliner, by a team from Sweden's Luleå University of Technology at Britain's Cranfield University. Utilizing a powered air suction system on its underside, the Vortex Robot was able climb all of the plane's smooth surfaces regardless of their curvature or inclination, moving in any orientation.

Notably, it was even able to move across the transitional area where the wing meets the fuselage.

Part of the Vortex Robot research group, from the left: Georgios Andrikopoulos, postdoc; Andreas Papadimitriou, PhD student; Angelica Brusell, PhD student; and Prof. George Nikolakopoulos
Part of the Vortex Robot research group, from the left: Georgios Andrikopoulos, postdoc; Andreas Papadimitriou, PhD student; Angelica Brusell, PhD student; and Prof. George Nikolakopoulos

"Our vision is multi-robot inspection and repair of aircrafts," says Luleå's Georgios Andrikopoulos, technical leader of the project (at far left in the photo above). "Imagine if we could send up multiple robots and let them work collaboratively, both time and money could be saved while potentially improving safety in the aerospace industry."

The robot can be seen in action, in the Swedish-language video below.

Sources: Luleå University of Technology, CompInnova

Inspekterande robot från Luleå tekniska universitet

2 comments
guzmanchinky
#1 cause of airliner defects being overlooked: Human Error. #1 cause of airliner crashes: Human Error. We need these robots and we need one pilot cockpits where automation does everything, and the pilot is there as backup. This is the ideal mix of robotic perfection and human intuition, judgement and experience. The human backup pilot should be allowed to train all the time using simulators and VR, which should easily be paid for by the money saved in paying two pilots.
MichaelB
@guzmanchinky Sound logical but not sure if people feel comfortable being transported around and under the control of robots. Maybe over time they will get used to it.