The EU has announced sponsorship of a project named BADGER or roBot for Autonomous nDerGround trenchless opERations mapping and navigation, which aims to develop underground robotics via the development of an automated framework that will have the capacity to move, be adapted, outline explore in the underground space.

Its development will include the tools for developing horizontal and vertical systems and maps of stable pipelines and bores to help those who need to survey the space below ground level.

The project involves seven institutions from five European countries and is being co-ordinated by Santiago Martínez de la Casa, Professor Carlos Balaguer, and Carme de Andrés Sanchis from the RoboticsLab. The project kicked off in January and has so far received €3.7 million in funding over the next three years.

Construction companies already use a big variety of digging machines to help excavate underground and put cables and pipes. However, these machines have their disadvantages: usually, they are unable to find and avoid many kinds of obstacles. They count on humans for this, but in environments where it may not be safe for humans to enter underground tunnels, introducing a robot is the natural option.

Furthermore, these machines are made to move in straight lines and cannot build a complex network of tunnels. They’re also too pricy to operate – many construction firms open the trenches, install the pipes into the hole and cover it up again, meaning it needs to be excavated again if there’s a problem, rather than just using an network of underground tunnels.

BADGER, on the other hand, will autonomously burrow under the ground to make channels for the pipes, moving around infrastructure. It is even capable of making 3D print walls for the conduit it creates as it moves.

Ground penetrating radar antenna arrays, electronic navigation sensors, and lasers help keep this robot on course through underground SLAM while avoiding all of the obstacles such as other pipes, rocks, and mole people.

The whole robot is modular, and the joint modules, drive modules, and tool modules can all be changed depending on what you are willing to create.