Robot Cockroach Mechanics, Coming to a Reality This Future

Posted 3/18/19

Are robots the car mechanics of the future? Bot scientists from Harvard University and the University of Nottingham seem to think so. They’ve teamed up with Rolls Royce to develop snake-like and cockroach-like robots to crawl into your engine and troubleshoot your car.

The idea sounds like the plot line to a Philip K. Dick novel coming to a theater near you, but the company is banking that its IntelligentEngine vision is the wave of the future. Rolls Royce announced its scheme at the Singapore Airshow earlier this year.

TechCrunch explains how the tech’s supposed to work:

“For SWARM to access the engines, these small bots will catch a ride with FLARE — a pair of endoscopic, snake-like robots that can slither inside the nooks and crannies of a large piece of machinery and deposit SWARM at the inspection point. The company also has plans for FLARE to carry out internal patch repairs.”

Small Critters for Big Engines

This approach could be promising for repairing large crafts such as airplane engines. Such maintenance is currently driven by internal sensor data and carried out manually — a process that can last up to five hours. Under Swarm tech, that process could take as little as five minutes.

“We thought, rather than doing that traditionally, we could put cameras on the end of small walking beetles and have them work in a team, whereby…collaboratively we start to map the whole environment,” Dr James Kell, Rolls-Royce on-wing technology specialist, told the Engineer. “It’s a much more efficient way of performing the same kind of inspection. If we did it conventionally, it would take us about five hours. If we did it like this, who knows, we could probably do that in maybe five minutes.”

Size Does Matter

The company is leaning towards cockroach robots not to honor their inner SciFi nerd but out of sheer practicality.

“We can use this small-scale robot to achieve tasks in confined spaces that usual robots can’t do,” Sébastien de Rivas, a research fellow at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, told “One of the great things with having such a small robot is that we can start to play around with engine inspections.”

So far, the cockroach/snake bots are being designed to fix jet engines, and even that will take some time. In the meantime, we human technicians will continue to fix your Jaguars, Porches, and BMWs. Just give us a call.