A Kiwi-made robot designed for the dairy shed is now helping Air New Zealand keep its aircraft safe.

The airline has partnered with Christchurch-based company Invert Robotics to trial robotic inspections of its planes. Using remote-controlled cameras, the robots can detect damage from lightning strikes and other activity.

The robots were originally designed for the dairy industry, where they scout for damage inside milk tanks by beaming back high-resolution footage in real time.

Air New Zealand engineering contracts head Andrew Hewitt said the robots gave engineers access to aircraft without putting people at risk. Currently, engineers needed to work at heights of up to 8m.


The robots also enabled staff to see potential damage more clearly because their cameras were "better than a human eye".

"We look at the robot as a way of making the aircraft safer and improving the inspection technique," Mr Hewitt said.

Air New Zealand chief operations officer Bruce Parton said the airline started to explore the use of robotics after recognising the shape of a milk tank closely resembled an aircraft fuselage.

"Using technology that can identify defects not immediately visible to the human eye and do so from the ground has the potential to make aircraft maintenance safer and more reliable."

Invert Robotics was launched five years ago with the aim of building climbing robots that would remove the need for people to go inside milk tanks at dairy factories.

Chief executive James Robertson said the robot they developed was the first in the world that could climb on stainless steel -- and because they did not rely on magnetism, they could traverse any smooth surface.

"Without realising it we've designed a system that's quite versatile, and it can climb on any sufficiently smooth surface."

Now, the company is looking to take on the global aviation industry.


"We look forward to continuing to work with Air New Zealand to develop the airline application for this technology so that it can potentially be rolled out across the global aviation industry."