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Burrowing Robot Opens New Possibilities in Underground Exploration Burrowing Robot Opens New Possibilities in Underground Exploration 

The digging robot has possible applications in agricultural and marine soil study, and even space exploration

Scarlett Evans

October 17, 2022

1 Min Read
Credit: UC Berkeley

A new burrowing robot could change the way we collect and analyze soil, with use cases in everything from environmentally monitoring in the agricultural and marine industries to soil conditions at construction sites. 

The new design, which comes from researchers at UC Berkeley, was inspired by the Pacific mole crab (Emerita analoga) and can autonomously burrow vertically into the ground. The team dubbed it EMBUR, or (for EMerita BUrrowing Robot).

The digging robot harnesses a novel leg design that mimics the way the crab buries itself in sand, developed in a sweeping motion to exert more power when pushing into the ground and retracting to minimize the force against the leg on its return stroke. This design is specific to granular terrain, which pushes back against the digging force the deeper it goes. 

The design also features a cuticle between the robot’s joints to prevent sand or dirt from entering its mechanism. 

Creating a robot that can bury itself opens new possibilities in underground exploration and study, with the new design capable of entering previously inaccessible areas. Possible use cases include analyzing soil quality in agricultural or marine sites, as well as construction and excavation areas and even lunar exploration; deployable from marine or space rovers.

Further study is expected to develop the burrowing method further and expand the design’s potential applications, with the potential to make the robot capable of moving from running to swimming to burying with ease.

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