Rolls-Royce is working on snake and insect-like robots for engine repair [Sticky or Not]

Nope, it's not a dystopic steam punk nightmare (not yet)

Imagine, if you will, a plane engine, writhing and swarming with robotic snakes and insects.

No, you aren’t conceiving of a scene from some post-apocalyptic steampunk horror film — you’re just bringing to mind Rolls-Royce’s recently announced vision for engine maintenance.

The vehicle manufacturing company outlined its ideas at the Farnborough Airshow, stating it is teamed up with academics from the University of Nottingham and Harvard University to work on a range of concepts.

Most evocative are the snake and insect robots mentioned above — projects named ‘FLARE’ and ‘SWARM’ respectively.

The FLARE robots are a pair of snakes flexible enough to travel through an engine and carry out patch repairs to damaged thermal barrier coatings. The first snake would enter through a combustion chamber, inspect damage and remove debris, while the second would deposit a temporary patch repair.

The SWARM robots, meanwhile, are collaborative, cockroach-like robots about 10mm in diameter that would ride into the engine on a snake robot and perform visual inspections by crawling through hard-to-reach places with small cameras that provide live video feedback to an operator.

Rolls-Royce talked about two other robots as well — ‘INSPECT’ robots, which are really just a network of periscopes permanently embedded in the engine for surveillance of maintenance issues and remote ‘boreblending’ robots, which would be bolted on to an engine and then controlled remotely by a skilled worked.

The boreblending robot is already in development, according to CNBC, though there’s no schedule for when the other robots will be released into the world.

Verdict: Sticky and not.

Are these robots terrifying? Of course.

Are they also very cool? Of course.

Thus the conundrum I experience every time I write about robots. They’re scary and cool. They have potential for great utility and could have a positive effect on society, industry and health — but they’re innately dangerous, too.

Any tech has it’s danger, but it’s hard not to consider the potential danger of rogue robotic snakes and cockroaches. Beyond that, though, there’s the more down-to-earth concern of job loss.

Depending on how we deal with that issue as a society, the impact of robotics could be profoundly felt by manufacturing workers.

So ultimately, these robots are sticky and not — one thing is for sure, though. Fending off a bunch of mechanical creatures in the depths of a machine would make for a great action movie scene.

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series titled Sticky or Not in which News and Telecom Editor Rose Behar analyzes new and often bizarre gadgets, rating them sticky (good) or not (bad).

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