RE2 Robotics to Develop Autonomous Aircraft Inspection System for the U.S. Air Force

USAF Rapid Sustainment Office program will use mobile manipulator for C-17 aircraft inspections at height.

Joshua J. Seybert, U.S. Air Force

RE2 Robotics will automate certain C-17 inspection and maintenance tasks at height.

Any task that requires a human to work above ground or floor level carries risks. Today, RE2 Robotics Inc. announced that it has received $1.5 million in Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to develop a flightline system for the U.S. Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office.

The program, Mobile Autonomous Aircraft Platform for Sustainment (MAAPS), will focus on the development of dual RE2 Sapien robotic arms integrated with a JLG scissor lift to perform tasks on C-17 military aircraft at height.

“Whether in the military or in commercial markets, working at height is inherently risky for aircraft maintenance and repair personnel,” said Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2 Robotics. “By automating certain flightline maintenance tasks during aircraft turnarounds, MAAPS will help the U.S. Air Force improve safety, overcome a shortage of trained maintenance personnel, and enhance the efficiency of aircraft readiness.”

Pittsburgh-based RE2 Robotics provides the RE2 Sapien robotic arms, RE2 Detect computer vision software, and RE2 Intellect autonomy software for mobile manipulation systems that can operate in a variety of complex indoor and outdoor environments.

The company said its systems help companies in the aviation, construction, defense, energy, and medical industries to enable remote operations, improve worker safety and efficiency, and reduce operational costs.

Autonomous maintenance with RE2 arms, vision

The MAAPS system will focus on tasks that are part of the pre- and post-flight inspection of C-17 aircraft, including at-height visual inspection of the aircraft’s fuselage, wing, and tail. It will also conduct the at-height reading of analog gauges and other autonomous sustainment activities.

By enabling these tasks to be performed by a robotic system, MAAPS will reduce the need for military personnel to work at height when conducting routine aircraft inspection repair and maintenance tasks, said RE2.

The MAAPS system will use a pair of RE2 Sapien 6M robotic arms, which feature embedded intelligence, integrated arm control, a high strength-to-weight ratio, and a hardware design that can withstand extreme temperatures and environmental conditions, said the company.

MAAPS will be designed as a multi-function system with various end-of-arm tools that can be used to perform routine maintenance functions at height, such as refilling engine oil, opening access panels, and engaging with and retrieving tools.

“MAAPS will use RE2’s advanced computer vision and autonomy software, RE2 Detect and RE2 Intellect, to autonomously identify and travel to an aircraft to perform flightline sustainment tasks,” said Dr. Adam Brant, project manager, RE2 Robotics. “The goal is for this system to be a mobile, mission-adaptable platform that can perform ground-based line maintenance tasks in a variety of environmental conditions, including harsh weather that may be hazardous for Air Force personnel.”

Established by the secretary of the Air Force in 2018, the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO) increases mission readiness by rapidly identifying, applying, and scaling technology essential to the operation and sustainment of the U.S. Air Force.

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Joshua J. Seybert, U.S. Air Force

RE2 Robotics will automate certain C-17 inspection and maintenance tasks at height.

Robot Technologies