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Cutting-edge 3D imaging technology to digitally transform aerospace inspection

A cutting-edge 3D imaging technology, NeRF (Neural Radiance Fields), will be harnessed to drive the digital transformation of aerospace inspections as part of new research. The project is being funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP), with research being carried out by digital solutions business Bloc Digital and the University of Derby.

The research collaboration will explore the use of NeRFs to semi-automatically transform imagery and videos of advanced aerospace parts into high-quality 3D digital representations. These can be used to track the condition and degradation of such parts over time in order to enhance efficiency and decision-making within quality inspection and airline fleet management.

Bloc Digital has supported the aerospace sector for over 20 years and is a specialist in developing operational and data-driven solutions that help to streamline and improve processes, such as digital twin and Internet of Things applications. The company’s new “Inspector” product is already helping to turn manual visual inspections into intelligent data.

The tool enables users to capture, track and manage the current and historical states of components through images, video or voice notes. It collates and analyses results across an entire fleet to give a complete understanding of performance and common part faults.

The study will make creating high-quality 3D content within the application quicker, easier and more intuitive, enabling Aerospace Inspectors to create their own 3D digital representations of parts without the need for CAD models – instead using only a smart device's camera.

Frank McQuade, Director of Products at Bloc Digital, commented:
“Bloc’s Inspector is currently enabling aerospace companies to revolutionise quality checks and how they utilise such data to both avoid expensive repairs and improve asset lifespan, safety, and performance. The enhanced ability to create and visualise the history of parts in 3D will provide an additional layer of intelligence that will further bolster preventative maintenance, and NeRFs will be key.”

Dr Hong Qing (Harry) Yu, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science and Academic Lead of the project at the University of Derby, added:
“It's truly exciting to be at the forefront of this project, where we're blending cutting-edge 3D imaging technology with practical aerospace applications. At its heart, what we're doing with NeRF isn't just about the tech—it's about how we can enhance these AI algorithms to make a real difference in aerospace inspections. This collaboration really exemplifies the synergy between academic research and industry innovation.

“As we dive deeper into this project, I'm convinced that the insights we'll uncover could fundamentally change how we approach aircraft maintenance, making it smarter, safer, and much more efficient.”

Read more here.