The SPIDER (Self-Propelled Instrument for Damage Evaluation and Repair) robots are fresh from Lockheed Martin's special project Skunk Works. They work on the company's helium-filled hybrid blimps, looking for holes.
(SPIDER Self-Propelled Instrument for Damage Evaluation and Repair)
The SPIDERs, which were built from off the shelf components, are just one part of the process. Essentially they are made of two pieces that attach magnetically on either side of the envelope fabric. The outer part of the SPIDER shines a light on to the fabric that is detected by sensors on the inner part. When the robot detects a hole then a repair mechanism is brought into play and the robot patches it with an integrated device that works in a similar way to a label maker.
It sends a full report to a main computer and any weak area will get flagged up for human inspection, but it’s a remarkably efficient way to conduct a complete search of such 80,000 square foot of material on each airship.
The aerospace company expects a team of five or six SPIDERs to examine and patch a full airship in less than five days, whereas a human inspection could take 10 days
Faint rattling noises came from inside the hull as if swarms of tiny animals were busily scurrying about scratching the metal walls with their sharp little claws. This was the sign that the repair robots had started out on their rounds, checking the solidity of the braces of the ship's framework; making sure that the hull had not been damaged anywhere and that all seams were still welded tight.
(Read more about Stanislaw Lem's repair robots)