As part of the Underminer program, General Electric’s innovation arm is perfecting a soft robot to boost battlefield operations. General Electric Company’s technological development division GE Research is creating and refining a soft and smart tunnel-digging robot—inspired by the makeup and movements of earthworms—that could underpin critical underground military operations of the future.
The research wing was recently tapped for a 15-month, $2.5 million project through the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Underminer program to perfect and prove the capabilities of its already-designed robotic prototype, which insiders believe will also have applications beyond the battlefield.
The key objectives of the DARPA program are to demonstrate a robot that can move at a speed of 10 cm/sec and dig a tunnel that is 500 meters in length and at least 10 cm in diameter. Through Underminer, DARPA aims to explore and demonstrate the rapid construction and uses of tactical underground tunnel networks to support the U.S. military’s efforts amid harsh environments. The ideal end result would be new solutions incorporating advanced robotics and sensing technologies that can outperform present commercial drilling capabilities. Aside from GE, the agency also selected teams from Colorado School of Mines and Sandia National Laboratories to demonstrate their own tech solutions and integrations. “The ability to quickly bore tactical tunnels could benefit contingency operations such as rapid ammunition resupply, rescue missions, or other immediate needs,” DARPA’s program manager Andrew Nuss said. ”