Anyone who's ever done any home renovation knows what a messy job removing paint can be. But imagine that instead of a flat wall you were tasked with stripping a curvy streamlined fighter plane. And the paint you were removing was designed to endure the stresses of supersonic flight. It's a daunting task, which is why the US Air Force wants to hand the job to laser-wielding robots.
Working with Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center, and the Concurrent Technologies Corporation, the Air Force Research Laboratory is developing a small squadron of bots that can precisely strip a plane with minimal human assistance.
The high-powered lasers they use are attached to long articulated arms which ensure the beam is always properly angled against the plane's contoured surface. By skipping harsh chemicals or abrasives the technique produces very little emissions, and what little debris is created is instantly removed via a filtrated suction system. So even though the bots are designed to be autonomous, the process is still a lot safer for humans to be around.
Currently the robots are being tested at Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah where eventually six of them will be deployed around the clock to both strip and re-paint planes. But the real question is when will the rest of us be able to rent one of these at our local Home Depot? That antique dresser isn't going to strip itself.