Self-Burying Robot Could Be Hiding in Your Backyard Right Now

With four giant drills, this robot can completely vanish into the ground

1 min read
Self-Burying Robot Could Be Hiding in Your Backyard Right Now

Bio-inspired robotics has been all over the place. We've got robots that walk, run, climb, fly, crawl, and swim. We've been kind of missing out on a big domain, though, and that's animals that dig. You know, like moles. Unlike just about any other sort of robot (or animal), you could have a whole family of moles chillin' within just a few feet of you (assuming you're close to the ground, of course) and you'd probably have no idea. And that's appealing for certain robotic applications:

"One use case is for this robot to drive or be air-dropped to a location close to a target, bury itself to be hidden, perform video surveillance, and send that video back to an operator."

Yeah, that's pretty sweet.

Obviously, this is just the very first crack at a self-burying robot, and there's still a lot of experimentation and optimization to be done. The researchers want to make a mathematical model and integrate some sensors and something about feedback control, but here's my advice: scrap all that, and just bolt some bigass motors on there, add some diamond-tipped drill bits, and send this baby straight to the center of the Earth.

"Design Of A Bimodal Self-Burying Robot," by Carl Darukhanavala, Andrew Lycas, Arpit Mittal, and Ashwinram Suresh from Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute,, was presented at ICRA 2013 in Germany last month.

Design of a Bimodal Self-Burying Robot ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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