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.
"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.
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