Rolls Royce and Harvard Are Building Tiny Engine-Inspecting Robots

Put down the monkey wrench and slowly back away

August 10, 2018 9:00 am

A timely 21st-century update to the We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t … diatribe: “You’re telling me we can put rovers on Mars, but can’t properly inspect the engines of our own cars?”

It’s true. To this point, the nooks and crannies of our autos’ inner sanctums have been less penetrable than a dusty red planet 34 million miles away.

Addressing that absurdity: Rolls Royce, Harvard and the University of Nottingham, who’ve teamed up to build SWARM robots, tiny insect-esque rovers, which, equipped with cameras, head deep into the bowels of a car’s engine to catalogue information and provide maintenance inspections.

swarm (3 images)

Just to emphasize: these things are tiny, clocking in at 1.5-grams and 4.5-cm. To this point, no robot that small has been able to accomplish the tasks Rolls Royce and Harvard have in mind for SWARM. But thanks to the robot’s eight degrees of freedom, once it’s dropped in the engine (with an assist from a tubular “snake robot”), it can move horizontally or vertically, reporting back as it sees fit.

Before you reach for your wallet, know that these things are still in development, and researchers have visions of the robots becoming even smaller before a release. Once they hit the mainstream, expect reduced costs in engine maintenance, along with increased efficacy and celerity of inspections.

Find more information here.

All images from Rollys Royce

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