Below the surface

by | Jan 2, 2019 | Inside Mines, Winter 2019 | 0 comments

The Edgar Experimental Mine in Idaho Springs has long been a unique underground laboratory for future engineers, providing valuable experience to those training to find, develop and process natural resources. And now, thanks to National Science Foundation funding, it will also be home to cutting-edge research in underground robotics.

“There’s lot of infrastructure being built underground and that presents new challenges,” said Tom Williams, assistant professor of computer science. “If you have some sort of security threat in a subway system or some sort of disaster in the tunnels, the techniques you’re going to use to deal with those types of situations are much different than what you would use on the surface—because of the networking challenges, because it is dark and smoky, because there’s a lot less structure.”

Researchers will deploy a team of robots in Edgar’s underground environment—ground robots, amphibious robots, drones and robot arms—as well as sensors, networking equipment and augmented reality headsets to facilitate their use.

Drones and robot arms could be operated for solo underground exploration or in tandem with ground robots. Networking equipment will allow robots to communicate with each other and their human teammates, and augmented reality headsets could allow for easier human-robot communication in low-light and dusty environments.

“Being able to safely inspect underground environments and perform rescues during underground catastrophes is essential to achieve the new underground frontier,” Williams said. “It’s important not only to be able to have robots in those types of environments because they can get into areas that humans can’t but also because they have sensor capabilities that humans don’t—I don’t have laser vision.”