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George Nikolakopoulos, Luleå University of Technology Photo: Linda Alfredsson
George Nikolakopoulos, Associate Professor of Control Engineering at Luleå University of Technology. Photo: Linda Alfredsson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Robots for better safety in aircraft industy

Published: 9 October 2015

Inspections of aircraft shafts done by robots in order to identify damages – it can become reality if the researchers in the Automatic Control Group at Luleå University of Technology succeed. – It is a futuristic idea, says Associate Professor George Nikolakopoulos and holder of the grant.

Luleå University of Technology is one out of five partners in the project CompInnova, a prestigious Horizon 2020 project within the call Future and Emerging Technologies (FET). The objective of the project is to develop an innovative inspection methodology for any type of composite and metallic aircraft structures.

Aircrafts are being inspected for external damages with regular intervals. It’s done through so called non-destructive testing and it’s done manually with a handheld sensor; a person takes point samples from the shaft and measures the material, looking for defects. These inspections are time consuming and hence costly.

– Today, the inspections are based on human experience and sense since they take point samples of the shaft. The sensor is put where someone assumes it is most likely to find a fault, says George Nikolakopoulos.

–A robot on the other hand, could inspect the whole shaft and improve the quality of the maintenance procedures.

A climbing robot

The task for the researchers in the Robotics team in the Automatic Control Group, is to design and develop the electronics, software and mechanical units of a robot that will carry an integrated measurement unit. The robot should be an autonomous Vortex robot, that is, it moves through air suction and is able to climb vertically, or follow the structure of the aircraft.  

– There are many challenges for us to meet. The sensor will weigh at least ten kilos and the robot therefore needs to be one meter in diameter, says George Nikolakopoulos.

–It is a futuristic idea but that is what a FET project is all about. There is a big risk of failing, but if we succeed the impact will be high. If so, we will save time, save money and improve safety in the aerospace industry.

Uniqe Motion Capture System

In the project, the Automatic Control Group will also contribute with its Motion Capture System, which is one of the biggest field robotics labs in Europe that if mounted on tripods, the 20 infrared outdoor cameras can form a test site big enough for an aircraft.

– The Motion Capture System will be used in the later stages of the project and will be an important part of the project, says George Nikolakopoulos.

CompInnova will last for three and a half years and the other partners are Cranfield University, England, University of Patras, Greece, University of Ioannina, Greece, Exis Innovation LTD, England.