Sticky Kiwi robot making aircraft inspection safer

photo: Invert Robotics

A New Zealand-designed ‘upside down’ robot, originally built to inspect the inside of milk tanks, may be about to take the aircraft inspection industry by storm.

Invert Robotics, an offshoot of the University of Canterbury, says its invention has been adopted by Zurich-based aircraft maintenance group SR Technics.

Air New Zealand began trials of the robot about two years ago, when it realised that the shape of a milk tank resembled that of an aircraft fuselage. See: New Zealand Herald article and video showing robot being used by Air New Zealand

The robot uses a suction mechanism and does not rely on magnetism, so it can adhere to wet or dry surfaces including steel, aluminium, glass and carbon fibre. The Christchurch-based company claims the robot will change the nature of many aircraft maintenance and inspection processes.

High definition cameras and sensors allow maintenance staff to undertake visual inspections in the hangar or on the tarmac, and there are plans to add ultrasound and thermographic testing technology.

‘Rapid set-up and efficient inspection can reduce checks for operational damage from hours to minutes, while eliminating the risks of staff working at height,’ the company says.

Invert Robotics’ technology was originally developed earlier this decade to inspect the inside of large tanks at dairy factories. It is now used to identify, record and report cracks in mission-critical assets in industries from food and beverage to oil and gas. The company has offices in the Netherlands, and plans to set up in Germany and Denmark.