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Lockheed Martin's blimp-scaling robot hunts for leaks

SPIDER, a self-propelled instrument for airship damage evaluation and repair, helps sniff out tiny leaks in Lockheed's hybrid airship.

SPIDER units zipping around Lockheed's hybrid airship.

Screenshot from YouTube/Lockheed Martin

In an effort to reduce the work required to find and fix leaks in Lockheed Martin's massive hybrid airship, the team designed SPIDER, a self-propelled instrument for airship damage evaluation and repair.

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works lab develops manned and unmanned prototype aircraft. The blimp-esque hybrid airship in the video below is one such project. Designed as a workhorse to carry cargo and people to places lacking roads, airports and other infrastructure, Lockheed's hybrid airship could make remote corners of the world much easier to access.

But it takes a lot of work to keep the airship in tip-top shape.

A whole crew has to inspect the airship manually with flashlights in search of pinhole leaks, explains Bob Boyd, project manager at Lockheed, in the video posted Tuesday. Enter SPIDER, a magnetic two-halved autonomous robot that illuminates the outside of the blimp, while simultaneously scanning the inside with light sensors to target and repair leaks.

Lockheed says it has finished Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification for a new hybrid airship class, so expect to hear about commercial versions of this versatile blimp in the future.