It looks like a cross between R2D2, the robot of "Star Wars" fame, and a garden hose with a sprinkler attached.
Called the Cobra RPB-2010, or "flying boroscope," it is a computer-controlled small camera system used to conduct visual inspections of jet engines, steam turbines, pipes and other places where people can't go.
The RPB-2010, manufactured by a unit of Irvine-based Identechs, was recently named by Research and Development magazine as one of the 100 most significant technical products of 1987. The products are selected for their significance, uniqueness and usefulness of their technology.
Another Orange County electronics company, Newport Corp. of Fountain Valley, won two awards from the magazine. One was for Newport's $5,988 optical spectrum analyzer, the SuperCavity, which is used in analyzing and "tuning" laser beams. The second R&D award was for a $14,500 electronic vibration isolation system used in laser, electro-optics and semiconductor manufacturing applications.
A unique feature of Identechs' $28,000 Cobra system is its ability to pull itself through a jet engine or other structure with less manual manipulation than other types of boroscopes, said William J. Charneski, director of product and market development.
The company calls the device a "flying" boroscope because it uses an air compressor that lifts the head of the flexible, camera-equipped rubber probe off the ground--thus its resemblance to a cobra.
"What we've done is put a small air jet on tip of this flexible probe," Charneski said. "By applying air pressure, it gives us an air thrust that tends to pull the probe along. You can point it to the left, the right or anywhere you want it."
Charneski said the RPB-2010 can reduce inspection time up to 75% and can reach places that were previously inaccessible. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration used the system to conduct an inspection of the space shuttle Columbia.
"Before now, the tanks had to be removed for inspection," said Charneski, a process that was quite costly. "When they started using our system, they could literally fly the probe back there."