The project's first essential step towards its strategic vision is the design and development of an autonomous excavating robotic system that bores subterranean small-diameter tunnel networks, including high curves, if necessary, localizes itself, maps and understands the surrounding environment and autonomously navigates and operates within the underground space thanks to advanced cognition capabilities tightly coupled with innovative perception approaches.
Such a robotic system can be the enabling technology for numerous application fields of high economic and societal value. It can enable access to the underground space with minimum disruption, even if it contains buried objects and other utilities, expand the operational workspace from one dimensional to three dimensional, and ease the supervision process through control and automation tools. It can also contribute to significantly lowering time and resources necessary for underground operations while minimising the need for human labour-intensive intervention.
The applicability of the proposed robotic system expands way beyond existing trenchless technologies, offering unprecedented capabilities and enabling solutions that cut-across a broad range of existing as well as new application domains that require underground infrastructure of advanced topology.
In order for BADGER to successfully realize its vision above, several prerequisites are defined in the form of major Scientific and Technological Objectives throughout the project duration as follows:
- Objective 1: To research and develop a highly innovative underground robotic system integrating all necessary h/w and s/w components for autonomously performing trenchless operations in unknown or partially known underground environments, of various types of soil, at civil utility depths, capable of moving along highly curved paths leveraging the full potential of the 3D underground workspace so as to reach its goal positions as efficiently and reliably as possible.
- Objective 2: To robotize existing robust and proven trenchless technologies by integrating them with novel modular mechatronic designs and achieve unprecedented maneuverability, mobility, re-programmability and drilling capabilities of trenchless technology tools, enabling them to bore faster, more efficiently and reliably even in highly curved paths.
- Objective 3: To research and develop a dependable robot capable of boring into unknown or partially mapped underground environment. The underground robot will integrate advanced perception capabilities, will be fully aware of its internal state and of the external environment and will perform simultaneous localization and mapping, while at the same time generate diagnostic data for the robot condition and the status of the executed boring process.
- Objective 4: To enable the underground robot to autonomously reach its desired goals. For this purpose, novel control system architecture and methodologies will be researched and developed that determine the robot’s immediate behaviour so as to implement the task and path planning decisions taken or updated by the robot’s cognition component and/or the human user, and which ensure motion planning and motion tracking while avoiding collisions with buried objects in the underground environment.
- Objective 5: To research and develop advanced cognition capabilities and methodologies that enable autonomous strategic decision-making on task planning and path planning problems. Learning and cognitive algorithms based on advanced semantics will enable the underground robot to interpret the environment and combine online collected data, offline stored data (past experience) and inferred future conditions for a) exhibiting adaptive anticipatory behaviour in real time on the basis of the contingent situation and b) adapting robot decision-making and reactive behaviour at a long-term level, always aiming at minimizing human intervention.
- Objective 6: To integrate all of the above research outcomes into a market-led robotic system, following a highly modular approach and architecture, while at the same time ensuring reliable and dependable operation in real-life underground environments in synergy with existing robust market technologies for trenchless applications. Modularity is a major element of this objective in order to ensure re-configurability and versatility of the BADGER robotic system and meet the needs of different applications and geological conditions with minimum cost. Other important elements of this objective are the development of interoperable (human) user interfaces and of a highly flexible data management component that can be easily integrated and interfaced with existing trenchless technology systems and utility databases to enable better off-line and on-line monitoring of the process by humans. Last but not least, to test and validate the BADGER robot in various conditions (in terms of soil, trajectories, curves, obstacles, applications, etc.) so as to verify its usefulness, efficiency and easy deployment for a multitude of applications in everyday life.