From my research I've found that (correct me if i am wrong):

Structure inspection (in B,C and D Checks) including (visual, thermography, ultrasonic inspections) looking for structure damage of different type of composit materials (like cracks, dis-bonding, delamination, water ingestion, holes, dents ... etc) in commercial airliners specially wide body aircraft takes alot of time, labor and cost.

So why isn't it done by robots which should be more time efficient, accurate and reliable? in a way that robots can do simple but mandatory inspection tasks allowing operators to focus on more skilled tasks (like engine work) reducing the overall plane down time !

Is there any robotic inspection systems exists that I didn't hear about?

How beneficial to airlines would it be to have a robotic system that would assist operators in the inspection process (in terms of time and cost) ?

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    $\begingroup$ Why do you think that a robot is necessarily more accurate or reliable than a human? $\endgroup$
    – user11933
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ I would go further and argue that robots for this kind of work are much less accurate and reliable. The main problem is with robot vision which is very simple and could not detect anywhere near the range of problems that a trained and experienced human can. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ You still seem to make assertions with no evidence. The fact that they are not used is good evidence that your predicate that they are more accurate, more reliable and cheaper than humans is not yet true. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ I think your question isn't being well-received because it's rather open-ended and could easily become about opinions. I suggest you re-phrase it to focus on your second question about inspection systems, i.e. ask if any airline is doing it today and/or if there are any active research programs investigating how to do it. Those are much more precise questions that can be answered with examples. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ Why am I imagining an "airframe Roomba?" $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 21:34

1 Answer 1


The robot, or better the software analyzing the sensor output, needs to be programmed for every eventuality. After all, wear and tear does not leave standard traces, and a human is still better in spotting when something does not look quite right. This does not concern the obvious cases, but those where experience and intuition make the difference.

Next, aircraft structures are made with human inspectors in mind. A robotic system would need to be able to access all points at least as well as a human can. This puts some heavy restrictions on the robot's physique.

Eventually, a robotic system will surpass most humans, but only after thousands of man-hours of training. Maybe someone is developing just such a system right now, but I am unaware of this.

One point remains, however: Who will be liable if the robotic system makes a mistake? The manufacturer will need to buy insurance to cover those corner cases where the robot fails, and this will come on top of the hefty expense for developing and training such a system. I expect that the military (e.g. DARPA) will be the first to make the plunge, and only when the robot has a positive track record will civilian operators start to consider using it.

The EasyJet drones are just helping to get a camera on top of the aircraft; the eventual monitoring of the feed will still be performed by humans. They are a high-tech version of a periscope, if you want.

  • $\begingroup$ Are robotic inspection processes used during manufacture? $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 21:29
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW A key question is the purpose of the inspection. Detect a piece that is not conform to specification is not the same as detecting metal fatigue taht occurs slowly after few flights. Moreover, in the first case, the obvious answer is to throw away the piece, in the second case you may choose either repairs or replacement. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Manu H Obviously there are many differences between manufacturing inspection and periodic inspection. I'm just wondering if robotic techniques are used during the manufacturing process or if they still have to use manual techniques to ensure accuracy. Many of the technologies will be similar, looking for inconsistencies in material. I'm sure many techniques used for material inspection have been adapted from the manufacturing process $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW It's possible, but it may be that it's just not cost-effective to make a robot or automated system to inspect a particular part for a particular type, when aircraft are made in such small quantities compared to other things that are made by machine, such as cars. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, I want to point that the EasyJet drone do inspection on some level, as they use onboard Lidar to generate an accurate 3D model of the aircraft which by use of good analysis software can point to possible damaged , after I saw that project I thought robots can do more than visual inspection. Maybe ultrasonic based on the same concept ! $\endgroup$
    – MTF_09
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 6:08

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