BADGER Autonomous Tunneling Robot under Development


MARCH, 2016


A new robot called BADGER is under development and autonomously digs tunnels while mapping and navigating underground.

Many modern robots are inspired by animals.

Badgers, in particular, practice lots of tunneling. Their dens (known as setts) are large networks of tunnels, complete with comparatively larger chambers for sleeping or rearing young. The inspiration for the BADGER autonomous underground robotic system is clear.

BADGER, in this case, stands for “RoBot for Autonomous unDerGround trenchless opERations, mapping and navigation,” and while perhaps a stretch in terms of matching the animal’s name, it does much to compare with a badger’s knack for tunneling and other underground operations. It’s divided into four separate, cylindrical sections for flexibility; the first bearing a device to bore into the earth, which it does on its own once the device knows its goal.

BADGER Autonomous Tunneling Robot under Development

While down there, BADGER automatically detects buried utilities and objects, plotting routes to avoid them. It’s able to map and visualize the space underground while reporting to the workers above, providing them with critical information about what they can’t see.

If all of that weren’t enough, the last section of the robot is equipped with a 3D printer, which uses resin to print a wall along the perimeter of the tunnel for reinforcement, and even going so far to make a pipe. Actual badgers certainly don’t 3D print walls or pipes.

Digital Trends asked the engineers about the project, and Professor Carlos Balaguer, a RoboticsLab member at Carlos III University of Madrid explained,

Let’s imagine that we want to connect two buildings standing on opposite sides of a main street in a modern city with a communication cable. In this case, making a trench would be the most common solution applied, [but this] would lead to traffic congestion, pedestrian inconvenience, and environmental pollution. The BADGER robot, however, will avoid all these problems through trench-less technology that will make a small hole in the ground, where the cable will be placed. Using its on-board sensors and an intelligent control algorithm, the robot will autonomously navigate from the basement of one building to the other, avoiding collisions with gas and water pipes, metro tunnels [and] big rocks.”

This sort of tunneling would be ideal for urban situations, which is precisely what BADGER is designed for.

As Balaguer said, a tunneling system that would enable people to drill without interrupting everything that’s going on above would be a much welcome change for communities that would suffer as a result of extended construction.

The BADGER project began in January 2017 and is to last for three years. Field tests will start in 2019 in Germany, and the completed BADGER should be released in 2020. It is part of HORIZON 2020, a European research and innovation program created to help good ideas like BADGER get funded and off the ground.

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