The airship industry is not a huge one, but it could be far more lucrative for those involved if there was a cheap and easy way to patch holes in them. Fortunately Lockheed Martin is right on top of that, as it’s developed a new “spider” robot to clamber all over the airship’s envelope and discover tiny holes in it, before automatically patching them up itself.
Repairs are a major problem for airship running. With even the tiniest of holes, much of the craft’s efficiency is lost, so keeping the envelope (the big air sack on top of the ship) air-tight is incredibly important. Before this bot, finding and fixing those holes involved manually searching over the surface to find them, before repairing them by hand.
That seems awfully 20th century, so the researchers at Lockheed Martin have developed the SPIDER: a “self propelled instrument for airship damage evaluation and repair”. It even fitted a series of wires over the top of it so it actually looks like a spider.
In actuality though, it works in a manner similar to those magnets that you use to clean your fish tank. The Spider is attached in two halves, one to the exterior of the envelope and another to the interior. Together they move across the entire surface of the air sack and, using a light on one half and a sensor on the other, detect holes in the material. Better yet, they then fix up the hole to make sure that it will no longer be a problem.
Why is Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s most advanced aerospace and military contractors, developing airships? Because it believes that a new “hybrid” airship design, could be perfect for specific tasks in the future, like low-cost cargo transport, disaster relief and even military uses.
They combine airship technology for high-efficiency flight, with fixed wing aerodynamics and air cushioned, hover-craft like feet, which let it navigate safely on the ground too.