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This article was published on July 18, 2018

Rolls-Royce is working on a robotic cockroach that can fix plane engines

Rolls-Royce is working on a robotic cockroach that can fix plane engines
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

Rolls-Royce, a company perhaps best known for airplane engines and fine automobiles, is now creating tiny cockroaches that can crawl inside tight spaces to spot potential problems and perform routine maintenance.

These roaches aren’t of the household variety, however; they’re robots.

Rolls-Royce’s robotic roaches (try saying that five times fast) would stand about 15 millimeters tall (about half an inch) and weigh in at just a few ounces. Each would be equipped with a camera as well as optics for 3D scanning that would allow engineers to remotely assess problems before retooling the robo roaches to perform the desired fix.

According to Rolls-Royce technology specialist James Cell:

They could go off scuttling around reaching all different parts of the combustion chamber. If we did it conventionally it would take us five hours; with these little robots, who knows, it might take five minutes.

The roaches would work in tandem. One would enter a combustion chamber, for example, to scope out any danger or to remove debris. A second robot — one designed specifically for the job, or re-designed on the fly to perform less common jobs — would follow to complete the repair. The buddy system, so to speak, allows the robots to perform simple tasks and diagnose problems. It also means that low-skilled workers could deploy the bots to diagnose an issue while waiting on engineers to retool them for a more complicated fix.

Once done, the robots could be programmed to leave the space, or get “flushed out” by the engine itself.

Current prototypes are much larger than the desired size and not quite ready for these types of repairs. A Rolls-Royce representative, though, tells TNW that they could be ready to use in as little as two years.

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