Mention the “internet of things” to most people today and they immediately think of a refrigerator sending the grocery list to a smart phone or Amazon’s Alexa digging through Cyberspace to send that special someone an original 1965 vinyl of the Turtles album “It Ain’t Me Babe.”
At this year’s Singapore Airshow, however, Rolls-Royce engines took machine intelligence to a new level by launching its IntelligentEngine project to create engines that are not only more efficient and safer than earlier models, but are also able to communicate with other engines and sense the environment around them.
That means the new Rolls-Royce engine will one day learn from its daily experiences and those of other engines, perhaps evolving into power plants capable of repairing themselves.
Rolls-Royce said the IntelligentEngine concept evolved from years of company experience in maintaining and upgrading the engines they built for the airlines.
“Using Big Data and machine learning, the IntelligentEngine vision involves the engine being ‘aware’ of its environment and operating context,” the company said in a statement. “This will not only let it learn, but also anticipate its requirements and make changes – in response to changing weather, for example – to improve efficiency and reliability, and reduce costs and risks."
By providing continuous two-way communication with the engine and other parts of the service ecosystem, the engine would be able to deal with problems before they become apparent and learn how to improve performance.
In fact, Rolls-Royce says that, one day, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence may allow the engines of tomorrow to not only know when it needs maintenance, but “to carry it out by itself.”
Only time will tell if smart engine technology will flow downstream to Lycomings, Continentals and other GA piston engines.