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Self-Burying Robots - What Could Go Wrong?

Self-buying robots have been created by Carnegie Mellon researchers, who apparently believe that, while sending robots to explore the planets might be an exciting endeavor, using robots to explore the world under our feet might be just as much fun.

Subterranean exploration so far has primarily been performed with the assistance and involvement of human beings. As more ground is broken and more layers are explored, the need for a robotic solution to make digging both easier and safer becomes greater. The applications of a self-burying robot extend from mining and military applications to humanitarian applications.


(Self-Burying robot video)

To validate the design concept discussed in the working principle we built a full robot as shown... The drills are all constructed from machined aluminum due to its light weight and its simplicity to work with. Due to the complexity of developing a full simulation, the ability to quickly and accurately machine new parts was important to finalize the design parameters. In order to reduce the size of passive surfaces of the robot, which contribute to resistance while digging, the drills are all connected by a thin aluminum frame. The electronics and actuators fit inside the rotating drills, with power and communication to the robot being tethered. The Quad Digger is 27 x 27 x 19 cm and weighs approximately 5 kilograms.

To test the capabilities of this system, common play sand was used because of its small grain size and consistency.

This self-burying robot reminds Philip K. Dick fans of the claws from his 1953 short story Second Variety:

Some of the little claws were learning to hide themselves, burrowing down into the ash, lying in wait...

Via Design of a Bimodal Self-Burying Robot (by Carl Darukhanavala, Andrew Lycas, Arpit Mittal, and Ashwinram Suresh from Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute) and IEEE Spectrum; thanks to an anonymous reader who pointed this story out and provided a reference.

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