Snake Robots Get Engineers Out of Tight Spaces


In 1997, Andrew Graham co-founded OC Robotics with a college friend. The company designs and develops snake-arm robots, and Graham holds more than 11 patents related to the technology.

The company's flexible snake-arm robots have fit into some tight spaces. For example, in 2012, when Hong Kong started boring a new road tunnel system 164 feet below sea level, engineers actually had to crawl down to the machine to sharpen and maintain the blades cutting through the stone -- it was a tight spot.

OC Robotics believed the company's snake robots could slink down the hole and offer the engineers a reprieve from the confined conditions. Now, instead of a human down the hole, a 6-foot-long robot inspects, cleans, and measures the sharpness of the cutters on the machines large boring shield.

The robot's performance made a strong impression on the industry, which is likely why GE Aviation bought the U.K.-based robotics manufacturer in June 2017.

According to an article in GE Reports, GE Aviation will try to deploy the robots, which use a 10-pound motor to move 14-foot-long interchangeable arms, while maintaining jet engines. The robots will allow the GE employees to do more work on the engines while they are still attached to the aircraft, which will shave time that the plane remains out of service.

GE also believes that the robots could be used for inspection of everything from trains to power plants, and even, one day, in healthcare.

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