Robotics: when General Electrics looks at our basements

Robots that dig underground are the subject of special attention by a large number of armed forces. This is particularly the case in the United States, where DARPA, the Pentagon’s research funding body, has just concluded a research program dedicated to building new robots specializing in drilling. The American authorities intend in particular to rely on the giant General Electrics, which has just produced a prototype in the shape of … Earthworm.

The American giant’s robot is part of DARPA’s Underminer program. According to the American agency, this program should help “to develop technologies and solutions which would exceed the capacities of current commercial drilling”. The program “aims to demonstrate the feasibility of rapidly building networks of tactical tunnels to provide a secure logistics infrastructure to pre-position supplies or resupply troops as they move through an area,” the Pentagon said.

At the same time, the US military is also finalizing its SubT (Subterranean) challenge, which “seeks new approaches to quickly map, navigate and search underground environments during combat operations or disaster response scenarios. where time is running out “. The final rounds of the virtual and systemic challenges will take place at the end of September of this year.

A geo-inspired robot

To come back to the earthworm made by General Electrics, this one does not spoil its nickname. Geo-inspired, it is like its prototype, soft and malleable, which places it in a category of robots that do not have a hard outer body. This earthworm robot is powered by fluid muscles and has been successfully tested over a one-and-a-half-year demonstration period.

“Thanks to this project, we really broke new ground in the design of autonomous and soft robots,” boasts Deepak Trivedi, a researcher from General Electrics who is leading the project. “By creating a smaller footprint capable of navigating extreme turning circles, operating autonomously, and operating reliably in extreme and harsh environments, we are opening up a whole new world of potential applications that go well with the -beyond commercially available technologies. ”

On its first “trips,” the prototype earthworm, which made a 10cm diameter tunnel, self-excavated underground at the General Electrics research campus in Niskayuna, New York. , reaching a distance comparable to that of the available trenchless digging machines. “The ability of General Electrics’ robot to operate reliably in extreme and harsh environments is, to our knowledge, a first in the field of soft robotics,” said Deepak Trivedi.

The earthworm, on the other hand, could be of great use, especially in inspection and repair tasks. “In the future, we want to enable deeper, in-situ inspection and repair capabilities that would allow more on-wing inspections and repairs to be carried out, or the inspection and repair of key aircraft equipment. production of energy, such as gas and steam turbines, without taking them out of service for long periods, “said General Electrics.

Source: .com

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