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New robot could be solution for tunneling geological surveys 


July, 2017
G. Wilkins
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Mechanical engineers at University of California Santa Barbara and Stanford University are developing a robot inspired by fungi. It works by extending a tendril into its surroundings, much like the root of a plant.

The robot’s development is still in early stages, and it does not yet appear to have a name, but its “tendril,” a soft, plastic tube, inflates itself and controls the direction in which it grows based on its surroundings. Because the pressure in the tube unfurls it at the end instead of inflating it evenly, it does not slide. More plastic tubing extends from inside, allowing it to grow to a current maximum of 72 meters.

There is so far lots of speculation about applications this robot could have, including transporting water and air to people trapped under rubble, clearing blockages, and tunneling. It makes sense, considering the way a plant root works; it extends itself downward through thick soil in much the same way. This would be particularly helpful during geological investigation prior to tunneling projects, should the robots be installed with sensors to tell soil densities, etc. In theory, the robot could run the length of the proposed tunnel before the TBM. With more accurate data, tunneling projects would be less prone to unexpected failures or complications, saving companies millions of dollars.

  1. Header photo attribution: ENERGY.GOV
  2. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/watch-shape-shifting-robot-extend-its-tentacle
  3. https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-07/uoc–art072017.php


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