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Bristol universities team up with easyJet for robot plane project

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IT could almost be something that has come straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel. But in a case of fact being stranger than fiction boffins at Bristol University and the University of the West of England have joined forces with an airline to work on a space age project.

Budget airline easyJet has agreed to work with the scientists on a unique project involve robot planes.

The Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), a partnership between the two universities, will be working on existing technology so that drones can be used to inspect Airbus’s fleet of 220 Airbus aircraft.

It is hoped the technology will help the airline become even more efficient, cutting delays on punctuality and safety records.

The drones will be set up to scan and assess easyJet’s planes, reporting back to engineers on any damage which may require further inspection or maintenance work.

The technology is currently in development with a view to testing it in the coming months and introducing the drones into operation as early as next year.

Ian Davies, head of engineering for easyJet, explained: “We have examined and assessed cutting edge technology across many different industries and are now applying a range of new technologies to the aviation sector for the first time to help us run our fleet of aircraft more effectively, efficiently and safely.

“The advantage of these emerging technologies is threefold – freeing up our engineering team to undertake more skilled tasks, keeping our costs down which in turn keeps our fares low and helping to minimise delays so maintaining our industry leading punctuality for our passengers.

“Safety is our number one priority and so all of these new technologies will be applied by our experienced engineering and flight crew to ensure our leading safety record is maintained.”

Dr Arthur Richards, head of Aerial Robotics at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, added: “Aircraft inspection is a great application for drones. Coupled with smart navigation and computer vision, they can get accurate data from really awkward places.

“We look forward to working with easyJet to develop safe, effective and efficient drone systems for this challenge.”

Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West, commented on the technology: “This is an impressive combination of Bristol’s renowned expertise in both robotics and aviation.

“Our universities and long established aviation companies are world beaters in their fields and I welcome the exciting work that easyJet is doing with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.”

The airline has also announced the development of a number of other innovative technologies, including 3D augmented reality systems, bespoke apps, and electronic tablets that will be especially useful in some of the airline’s more remote airports across its network. (The Bristol Post)

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