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Robots have been used for a long time in factories and in the automotive industry, however, there has been limited use in the aerospace engineering area. A new robotic system, the A5, is the first multi-purpose robot designed for use on the aerospace factory floor capable of using real-time sensor feedback to conduct work in a localized environment.

Engineers from the Manufacturing Technologies Division, US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), have successfully demonstrated the capabilities of the Advanced Automation for Agile Aerospace Applications (A5) Robotic System at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

By capitalizing on advancements in man-machine interfacing technologies, the A5 robot is anticipated to cut depot maintenance times for aircraft coating removal up to 50 percent, saving time and money over the lifecycle of a platform.

Rick Meyers, an Automation and Robotics Program Manager at the AFRL, said: “Typically, robotic arms are bolted into place and perform repetitive actions as a platform moves down a line. The A5 robot is mounted on a mobile platform that allows it to move about an aircraft. A human operator interfaces with the onboard computer, and the robot plans and completes the manual tasks.”

Unique to the A5 is the ability for it to use advanced sensors to conduct real-time path planning and analysis as it moves about an aircraft, according to Sensor data is transmitted to an onboard computer that processes the information and provides an optimized path plan for maintenance activity to an operator for confirmation. This processing ability enables A5 to adapt to multiple platforms without the need for system reprogramming, which adds time and cost to maintenance efforts.

The A5 robot program is nearing the end of its Phase I effort, which focused on developing an adaptive robotic sanding capability for the C-17 aircraft.

The AFRL team is still in the process of defining the system’s next application, though they are considering pursuing development efforts focused on nondestructive inspection or composite repair. In any case, the robotic expertise developed over the course of this project combined with the ability to leverage cutting-edge technology for the warfighter is a big step towards realizing the AFRL vision for advanced robotics in the defense environment.