Rolls-Royce and researchers at Harvard have teamed up to create a small swarm of robots that will be more efficient and faster at keeping your engine well repaired. The robot may be cute, but it takes inspiration from a creepy source. (Photo from Rolls-Royce)


Rolls-Royce is turning to robotics when it comes to engine maintenance. The UK car manufacturer recently revealed it has teamed up with Harvard University and the University of Nottingham to use tiny cockroach-inspired robots that could help with engine repair and inspection. The company believes using these bots will lead to faster, less labor-intensive inspections along with cutting the price for engine maintenance.


Called SWARM, the robots, which look like the stars of a Pixar movie, are small enough to go inside an engine, equipped with cameras, and get a more detailed look at the inside. They will then provide a live feed to a human operator. This way, the engine won’t need to be removed from the vehicle itself. These little guys are supposed to be faster too. James Kell, technology specialist at Rolls-Royce, said work that would normally take five hours could be done in five minutes with the help of these little bots.


So how will these robots get into the engine? They’ll get access via FLARE, a pair of endoscopic, snake-like robots that can easily slither between the nooks and crannies of the engine and bring SWARM to the right location. There are also plans to have FLARE do internal repairs in the future. The snake-like bot would enter through a combustion chamber to inspect damage and remove debris. A second robot would then drop off a patch repair that would sit temporarily until the engine was ready for a full repair.


Rolls-Royce also wants to use robots for long-term maintenance. Along with these developments, they revealed a network of INSPECT bots, which will be installed inside engines for round the clock maintenance. They’re also working on remote boreblending bots that would be bolted-on by worker to be controlled by specialist engineers to assists with difficult maintenance tasks.


Right now SWARM is still in development. There’s no word on when these robotic teams will be ready. Researchers at Harvard is currently working on shrinking down the robots; they’re currently too big for this type of work, but the team is up to the task. They’ve been working on these bots for the past eight years. Called HAMR, the team at Harvard recently gave it the ability to walk on and under water.



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