A jet plane's engine has around 100 sensors that track things like air pressure, temperature, and vibration as it propels its cargo over the Earth. Machines on the ground, via diagnostic algorithms, are constantly monitoring the data delivered by those sensors to ensure that the cargo makes it back safely. This process is, though complicated, fairly straightforward -- until, that is, the engine's health analysis detects a problem. What if a bird strike damages a fan, or some errant piece of debris cripples a compressor blade?
Engineers at firms like Rolls-Royce and General Electric are developing devices that will be specialized to find and then repair problems in plane engines. And they are being referred to -- mostly if not completely unironically -- as "snake robots." The viperoid machines, planned for a July 2014 release, would be about half an inch in diameter. They'd be bolted to an engine but controlled by a technician, who would guide them through the engine's insides as they beam back images. The whole process would be, a Rolls-Royce executive said, a bit like telesurgery.