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Autonomous and Intelligent Aircraft Maintenance Technologies


TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Materials, Human Systems 

OBJECTIVE: Develop autonomous Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based systems to work with or alongside aircraft maintainers to reduce manning and/or to augment the abilities of aircraft maintainers. 

DESCRIPTION: There is a need to support reliability and maintainability of aviation assets that will directly reduce life cycle costs by augmenting or replacing manual operations. The Navy has demonstrated use of smart algorithms combined into optical detection systems to detect, identify, and quantify defects and damage. Augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) are used in industry today to greatly enhance maintenance and training, and are tools for doing both remotely. The Navy has recently experimented with AR/VR technologies for improved training. In the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Centers, robotics are currently used for industrial processes such as coatings removal, coatings application and thermal spray metal repair application to increase precision, quality, and throughput. The Navy has recently demonstrated an autonomous mobile-portable robotic metallization system for on-aircraft maintenance that has shown the effectiveness of such technology deployed to Intermediate level maintenance. All of these technologies have proven to benefit all levels of aircraft maintenance. The next step is to combine AI algorithms, sensors, AR/VR, and/or robotics to develop smart autonomous systems or tools. The Navy seeks the development of technologies specifically for the aircraft maintenance community to perform functions such as material inspection, non-destructive inspection, coatings inspection and repair, and training. A specific need exists in the maintenance, inspection and repair of special coatings that require precision, where the current methods are manual. The Navy also seeks the development of an AI system to map out damaged areas such as in corrosion maintenance; repair by removing precise layers of coating and then reapply precise layers of coating; and catalog historical data. Autonomous or Intelligent “smart” technologies have the potential to give artisan capabilities to intermediate or field-level aircraft maintainers, utilizing AR/VR to autonomous robots. The technology, if wearable or handheld, must be minimal size, minimal weight, and the most power. Ideally, if worn or held, it should be lightweight and easy to use, compact as much as possible, ergonomic, and a as long of a battery life as possible or self-powered as this technology will be used in the field. These features are also preferable for a robotic system, but a robotic system must be able to maneuver, manipulate, or traverse around fixed-wing aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft, or unmanned aircraft, of all Type/Model/or Series (TMS). If an autonomous system, it should be capable of finding, fixing, and finishing with minimal or no human interaction. Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. owned and operated with no foreign influence as defined by DoD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor and/or subcontractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this project as set forth by DSS and NAVAIR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advanced phases of this contract. 

PHASE I: Assess current aircraft maintenance practices such as cleaning, coatings removal, non-destructive inspection, and corrosion assessment. Determine areas that are candidates for autonomous maintenance, integration of AI, or other smart-based systems such as AR tools. Design, develop, and demonstrate feasibility of an approach. Perform an analysis of alternatives and benefit analysis to meet the requirements laid out in the Description. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II. 

PHASE II: Develop, construct, evaluate, and demonstrate a prototype autonomous AI-based technology or an AR/VR tool or technology for aircraft maintenance based upon the conclusion of Phase I. Perform demonstration of the technology on indicative aircraft structures or test on mock-ups of unmanned aerial systems, fixed-wing aircraft, or rotary-wing aircraft. Demonstrate prototypes in a lab environment with the anticipation of deployment to the field. Work in Phase II may become classified. Please see note in Description paragraph. 

PHASE III: Demonstrate and evaluate the technology on a demonstration aircraft. Transition the technology into an active Marine Corps Squadron or Navy Squadron, or Fleet Readiness Center/Depot, for implementation into the Navy. The technologies developed would apply directly to the commercial aviation industry, general aircraft maintenance, as well as potential broad application in the coatings industry. 


1. 2018 LMI Estimated Impact of Corrosion on Cost and Availability of DoD Weapon Systems FY18 Update Report SAL62T1

KEYWORDS: Autonomous; Artificial Intelligence; Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality; Robotics; Sustainment; Readiness 

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