Robot “Blimp Whisperer”

Speaking of hybrid airships, the romance is scarcely limited to Jolly Old England.

The Lockheed Skunkworks—the very paradigm of wild-blue-yonder aviation R&D—has been in the hybrid airship game, too. Their work over the last decade will enter commercial business Real Soon Now.

The Hybrid Airship provides affordable and safe delivery of cargo and personnel to virtually anywhere – water or land. Hybrids were designed to enable a more sustainable future.

This month Evan Ackerman interviewed Skunkworks engineer Ben Szpak for IEEE Spectrum, about a related technology developed by Lockheed Martin, the “SPIDER Blimp-Fixing Robot”. This technology deals with the perennial task for airship operations, locating and patching pinhole leaks. The manual process—developed a century ago—is for a technician to shine a light from inside the bag, while another looks for holes, and patches them.

The Lockheed Martin system updates this to the twenty first, employing robots, actually a swarm of them. These little robots can run much more often (possibly continuously), can operate while the envelope is inflated, and are designed to be able to crawl over all the complex curved surfaces of the envelope, even where humans can’t reach easily. Thus, these might robots can do a better job than puny carbon-based life forms, and keep the airship in good shape.

How can we go wrong—skunkworks, HAV, swarms of robots!  That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

  1. Evan Ackerman, How Lockheed Martin’s SPIDER Blimp-Fixing Robot Works, in Automation, E. Guizzo, Editor. 2016, IEEE Spectrum.


Robot Wednesday

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