New research seeks to enable reuse of robotics in USAF operations


A team of researchers and aerospace manufacturers is set to conduct a study that will look at ways to promote adaptation of industrial robots for the US Air Force (USAF) operations.

Boeing will work together with National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) on the project, as part of a $6.7m contract.

The team will help develop a technology that enables advanced robotics to be used in different aerospace manufacturing and maintenance processes.

A mobile multi-process robotic solution will be developed under the advanced automation for agile aerospace applications (A5) programme.

Boeing Research and Technology advanced production and inspection group director Max Amin-Javaheri said: “Many operations in aerospace production and sustainment are good candidates for automation to increase safety, productivity, and quality.

“A5 will expand opportunities for lower rate production environments and sustainment operations, areas that are typically very challenging to economically automate.”

Boeing will provide process development and tooling expertise, and SwRI will develop software using the open-source robot operating system industrial (ROS-I) platform and will integrate all the subsystems on a large mobile manipulator robotic platform.

The four-year programme will be managed by NCDMM.

"A5 will expand opportunities for lower rate production environments and sustainment operations, areas that are typically very challenging to economically automate."

Using ROS-I, the team will be able to quickly integrate the advanced capabilities of ROS with industrial hardware to enable robotic programmes that perceive the aircraft, automatically plan tasks and associated robot motion, and reliably execute those plans.

Phase I of the A5 programme aims to develop adaptive robotic capabilities in aircraft sanding, by using ROS-Industrial.

Phase II will involve the application of those capabilities to composite aircraft repair, and Phase III will develop non-destructive capabilities using the same mobile platform.


Image: An illustration depicts how a robotic arm commonly used in advanced manufacturing. Photo: courtesy of Southwest Research Institute.