BADGER performance design

‘BADGER’ robot in development to tunnel underground and lay wires and pipes

Image credit: Tracto-Technik

European researchers are embarking on a new project to create an intelligent robotic system which can manoeuvre and navigate underground to explore and survey land, as well as lay down networks, beneath cities with minimal disruption.

The BADGER (roBot for Autonomous unDerground trenchless opERations) system is currently under development at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M). It is part of a Horizon 2020 research project aimed at developing smarter robotic systems for excavation.

The Spanish team has been joined by researchers from Germany, Greece, Italy and the UK.

Although countless different forms of robotic motion have been explored, most robots are only capable of travelling on land (by rolling or walking), through the air or on and through water. This project aims to develop and implement a unique robotic system capable of travelling underground.

The researchers hope that the BADGER system will be capable of autonomously excavating steep, narrow tunnels in urban environments. It will, the team says, be “distinctly ecological”, allowing sustainable transformation of a congested environment without the need for digging disruptive trenches, or closing off parts of a city for the maintenance work.

The robot will drill, move and navigate underground to construct networks – such as networks of pipes – in three dimensions.

“Given that the whole process will take place underground, noise pollution and contamination will be reduced,” the researchers said.

The system will navigate autonomously, with all sensors, georadars and computers integrated into the machine itself. This could allow it to execute a much more precise and controlled exploration of the land than has been possible before.

The team also plan to use ultrasound techniques to allow the robot to perforate the ground. A 3D printer attached to the robot will be used to reinforce the tunnels in which the cables and pipes lie.

“The use of innovative localisation, mapping and navigation techniques, along with sensors and georadars will allow them to be adapted to different land surfaces and aid in the analysis of the work environment and decision making in attaining the goals,” said Professor Carlos Balaguer, a professor in the UC3M robotics lab, and coordinator of the BADGER project.

The UC3M engineers hope that their system will prove its economic and social worth over the course of the project and that the BADGER system could eventually become the gold standard for excavation technologies.

“[BADGER] will notably increase European competitiveness in search and rescue operations (landslides), mining activities, applications with civilian use like water pipes, gas and fibre optics, exploration techniques and mapping,” said Professor Balaguer.

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