The US Air Force is looking to add robotic lasers to its arsenal However, they won’t be used in any near term offensives. These robotic lasers will be removing paint from fighter and cargo aircraft.
Paint stripping is a normal part of the maintenance process for aircraft. Aside from making older aircraft look brand new, removing the paint allows technicians to inspect for damage to the fuselage. In the past, large teams of skilled technicians were employed to do this job which drove the price of maintaining each aircraft skyward.
In an effort to reduce costs, the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment has sponsored a two year collaboration between Carnegie Mellon and Concurrent Technologies. The goal of the project is to create “six autonomous mobile robots, each with a laser coating remover, and deploy them to work in teams to remove paint and other coatings from aircraft at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah.”
The Advanced Robotic Laser Coating Removal System (ARLCRS) uses a continuous wave laser to strip paint from the fuselage. The robotic arm of the ARLCRS ensures that the laser is moving at the appropriate speed across the aircrafts body. If the laser were to move too fast it wouldn’t properly strip paint. If it moved too slowly the craft’s body could be overheated. Once the laser has crossed an area of the aircraft’s body a HEPA system collects the removed paint.
Aside from their ability to work autonomously around the clock, one of the other major benefits of using the ARLCRS is that it will reduce the environmental impact usually associated with stripping paint from aircraft. According to Jim Arthur a principle engineer with Concurrent, "Automated laser decoating is expected to significantly reduce labor, waste volume, environmental risk, and overall cost."
In practice, two configurations of ARLCRS’ will be used; one for fighters and another for larger cargo planes. In the fighter configuration two robots will be used, and in cargo plane configuration four robots will be used. If the ARLCRS system is proven to be effective it could further reduce the financial burden of fielding a massive Air Force. Some are already predicting that one day systems similar to the ARLCRS might inspect aircraft and do maintenance and repair work.
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Images Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon & Concurrent Technologies