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Check out Lockheed Martin's robotic blimp inspector

Engadget Engadget 27/07/2016 Mariella Moon
© Provided by Engadget

Lockheed Martin's hybrid airships are as big as a football field, and it's a huge challenge making sure their surfaces are don't have tiny pinholes in them. That's why the company developed a robot called Self-Propelled Instrument for Damage Evaluation and Repair or SPIDER to crawl on the vehicle's surface and conduct autonomous inspections. The aerospace corporation developed SPIDER under its top secret Skunk Works division, which was also responsible for making its helium-filled hybrid blimps. It's composed of two magnetic parts that snap together: one goes outside the blimp's envelope (or its surface, which is made of special balloon fabric) and the other goes inside.

The outer part shines light on the fabric, while the inner half detects the pinholes using its light sensors. When the robot detects a hole, it aligns its repair mechanism and patches it up. It also sends a report of all the pinholes it finds and repairs to a computer. Lockheed Martin landed its first hybrid airship contract -- a huge, $480 million deal -- in March. It would have been time consuming to inspect each of the 12 blimps the client ordered without SPIDER. While we doubt the robot would make blimps more common (as charming as they are), it could help speed up the company's manufacturing process.

You can see the company explaining and demonstrating SPIDER in the video below:

Lockheed Martin

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