Realizing the type of locomotion of the first robots in the science-fiction movie “Cybernetic Assassins” (“Screamers”), robotics have created a robot model capable of moving under the sand.
The achievement is the work of Shivam Chopra’s team, from the University of California in San Diego, United States.
As far as its creators know, the new robot is the only one capable of moving through the sand at a depth of 12 centimeters. It advances at a speed of 1.2 millimeters per second, that is, about 4 meters per hour. This may seem slow, especially when compared to the speed of the robots in the aforementioned movie, but it is a speed comparable to that of other subterranean animals such as earthworms.
The robot advances through the action of two front limbs. At the tips of its limbs it has force sensors installed that allow it to detect obstacles while in motion.
The robot can work without the need for external power or data supply cables. Communication with him is done by Wi-Fi.
Robots moving under the sand face significant challenges, such as coping with forces greater than those faced by robots moving on land, in the air, or in water. They are also more easily damaged. However, the advantages of locomotion under sand include being able to inspect grain silos, take measurements of subsurface contaminants, delve into the subsurface of the seafloor, explore the subsurface of other worlds, and perform search and rescue work on sand. sites devastated by landslides, avalanches and the like.
The robot is equipped with fin-like appendages that allow it to move under the sand using movements similar to swimming. (Photo: David Baillot/University of California San Diego)
The robot is the result of many hours of work by the aforementioned team of robotics from the University of California at San Diego. The main challenge was finding the best way for a robot to move under the sand. As a medium through which to move, sand presents a special challenge due to the friction between its grains, which generates great forces; the difficulty to detect obstacles in it (for example boulders); and the fact that it switches between behaving like a liquid and behaving like a solid depending on the context.
The next steps in this line of research and development, which has the help of the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research, include increasing the speed of the robot and making it easier for it to dig into the sand to get under it, in addition to the act of to emerge to the surface of it.
Chopra and his colleagues discuss the technical details of their latest advances with this robot model in the academic journal Advanced Intelligent Systems, under the title “Toward robotic sensing and swimming in granular environments using underactuated appendages.” (Fountain: NCYT by Amazings)