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Robotic Inchworm Drill for Mars, Europa 134

Posted by Hemos
from the is-kevin-bacon-involved? dept.
Erik Baard writes " The NY Times (reg. blah) is currently an article on robotic inchworm drills. NASA is funding Honeybee Robotics' R&D to create an inchworming "underground rover" based in part on a steam pipe welding machine the company built for Con Ed (called the WISER). The autonomous robot (scroll here to the Inchworm Deep Drilling System -- http://www.honeybeerobotics.com/sample.htm) would reach *kilometers* into Mars or Jupiter's moon, Europa, where scientists expect to find liquid water, and just possibly, life. Other drill designs could go perhaps a meter down. The inchworm could either gnaw its way back to the surface, or lay a series of radio relay stations ("bread crumbs") to pass the data signal to an amplifier on the surface to communicate with Earth. Yeah, I'm a regular /.er. And yeah, the NYT online spelled my name wrong."
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Robotic Inchworm Drill for Mars, Europa

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  • Hmm... (Score:1, Funny)

    by rovingeyes (575063)
    would reach *kilometers* into Mars or Jupiter's moon

    At least this time I hope the people will make sure that they agree on one system. We don't want another screw up becoz someone didn't know they were dealing in *miles*, ooops...../P

  • No reg link (Score:5, Informative)

    by GnomeKing (564248) on Monday November 11, 2002 @09:49AM (#4642140)
    Here [nytimes.com]
    • I didnt notice the original link asked for a reg?
      • I didnt notice the original link asked for a reg?

        it does:

        Welcome to The New York Times on the Web!
        For full access to our site, please complete this simple registration form.


        maybe you've already got the NYT reg cookie set on your browser?

  • If so, couldn't we find some way to tap into the vast thermal power at the earth's core? Or do they not go deep enough?
    • by meringuoid (568297) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:18AM (#4642288)
      If so, couldn't we find some way to tap into the vast thermal power at the earth's core? Or do they not go deep enough?

      The Earth's crust is only a few kilometres thick, so in principle they could get through to the hot mantle below. The problem is heat and pressure. First, we have no material capable of surviving in such conditions - the robot would be crushed and melted. Second, once you break through into the magma below the solid rock, it would be like popping a champagne cork - instant mini-volcano.

      Geothermal power works fine on the temperature difference between the bottom and top of a mineshaft, or running off some volcanic vent like in Iceland, but until we get some really _serious_ material science done there'll be no access to the core itself.

      The real purpose of these robots would be to get down through the Martian permafrost or the Europan global glacier to investigate the (warmer? wetter? life-infested??) region below...

      • You have a hell of an imagination ...

        1) magma is the SAME material as the earth's crust, which is the same material as a pile of mud in the street. It's just a bit hotter.

        2) the would be no "popping" involved. The material above lava is rock under enourmous pressure. Your shaft would collapse on your drill before it would even reach magma and thereby instantly re-"corking" the champagne (not to mention more than probably cutting your drill's power cord)

        3) We have a lot of material capable of surviving those conditions, It is a much bigger problem to stabilize the shaft. There have been a LOT of accidents because we were not capable of stabilizing a shaft of 300-800 meters (mine elevators getting crushed etc), we most defineately cannot stabilize a shaft of 10-20 kilometers deep, and don't even dream about a shaft in molten rock
      • One of Alexander Beliaev (Russian sci-fi writer (beginning of the past century)) novels talks about the same kind of thing - the soviets wanted to build a power plant based on heat differences between the earth's surface and the heat found deep underneath the earth crust - the core. So in the novel they built a huge machine - worm, that had enough room to fit in 4 people. As usual in the soviet novels of this type, a little boy, a pioneer, borded the machine without anyone realizing this, and he only showed up when it was already too late and they could not turn back. Another easily predictable twist was that there was a traitor on bord of the worm who would do anything to harm the project (he obviously sold out to the imperial forces of the west) but these details of the plot do not matter. What is interesting was the design of the machine. It had very large drills (what a shock!) on the nose and it had small side drills and it had caterpillars on the sides. On the back it had huge stomping surfaces - legs that would compress the cuttings. So the big drills would crush the soil and the stone, the small drills would help to make more side room, the caterpillars would push the machine forward and would move some of the cuttings to the back where the stompers would compress the cuttings leaving no tunnel. Oh, there also was this little thing - they had to drug cable behind them, and the cable was used for communications and the main point was to run the cable something like 1000 kilometers underground and install a large thermo-pair in some hot cave underground and to allow the cable to be used as the transmitter of the potential. I don't remember exactly, I red it over 15 years ago but it was a neat idea I think for 1920s.
      • The Earths crust is around 10 kilometres thick under the ocean: on land, it averages 50 kilometres. That's a lot of rock to try and tunnel through, let alone keep a shaft open in.
      • The real purpose of these robots would be to get down through the Martian permafrost or the Europan global glacier to investigate the (warmer? wetter? life-infested??) region below...


        Scientists actually think there's life in Europe? What do we pay these people for?...

        Oh, Europa. Sorry. My bad. ;)

  • by Zayin (91850) on Monday November 11, 2002 @09:51AM (#4642152)

    http://www.honeybeerobotics.com/sample.htm



    That domain name sure is easy to misinterpret... What's honeybeer anyway? (And yes, there are other ways to read it. :-)

  • gnaw its way back to the surface, or lay a series of radio relay stations

    I'd hope it does both, since if one fails and has no backup plan, the entire mission would be gone to waste.

    PS, anyone else having trouble viewing the nytimes article? I can't believe we could actually /. nytimes.com ...
    • ...the entire mission would be gone to waste.


      I don't think it is a waste to bury a few kilograms of earth material a few kilometers deep into a foriegn body. There is something so very geeky yet sexual about that.
      • I don't think it is a waste to bury a few kilograms of earth material

        As with most computing applications, the biggest loss isn't the hardware, it's the data. To send the data back to earth, you either need a relay system to get the signal back to the surface to be transmitted, or the robot itself must return to the surface to transmit the data. If they choose to have it climb back out to send home the data, but it gets stuck and has no backup plan, the mission is a failure.

    • PS, anyone else having trouble viewing the nytimes article? I can't believe we could actually /. nytimes.com ...

      Why do you think you have to log in to see the articles? It's protection from being slashdotted.

      • >PS, anyone else having trouble viewing the nytimes article? I can't believe we could actually /. nytimes.com ...

        Why do you think you have to log in to see the articles? It's protection from being slashdotted.


        (sorry, going a little OT here...)

        First of all, the login page is still off of the nytimes.com webserver, so unless registration prevents people from clicking the link at all, the same number of requests will be hitting the nytimes server as if it didn't have registration. Well, actually double, since we're all going through a registration page AND the article page.

        In any case, I do have a login, but I can't even bring up their home page http://www.nytimes.com/ [nytimes.com], nor the no-registration link someone provided.

        Maybe it's just my connection, though, although I can still visit any other website.
        • It's OK here, a few minutes later.

          I imagine they have a sturdy server setup, for when NEWS breaks!
        • First of all, the login page is still off of the nytimes.com webserver, so unless registration prevents people from clicking the link at all, the same number of requests will be hitting the nytimes server as if it didn't have registration. Well, actually double, since we're all going through a registration page AND the article page.

          It was meant to be funny. Sorry if it didn't come across that way.

          I know that the login requests would hit the server, and that the hit rate would be no different than if they didn't have the registration... from a technical point of view.

          However, there are plenty of people (me among them) that simply won't bother to go to the site because of the registration. Whether it's laziness, or security hypersensitivity, the registration part of that site does "block" traffic from slashdot users.

          Can you imagine the traffic the NYTimes site would get from here if they didn't have the registration? Consider all the complaints about it.

  • by kryonD (163018) on Monday November 11, 2002 @09:52AM (#4642155) Homepage Journal
    When it seems that every other article about NASA is complaining about budget shortfalls for the ISS and how it is limitting its value as a research facility, I find this kind of stuff mildly aggravating. I am happy that my tax dollars are spent on space exploration, but I don't don't see much wisdom behind the way its being handled.

    Robotic drills huh? looks like someone has once again "Bullshitted NASA" [imdb.com]
    • Robotic drills huh? looks like someone has once again "Bullshitted NASA"
      You don't have to work with conduit, do you?
      For those of us with a clue this is insanely great stuff. Think about it, take one of these, modify it to lay tape (that, btw, being the flat cord one pulls through conduit to later pull in the cable) and spray in a coat of high-strength concrete behind it, making instant channel and and for once putting a below-ground line across a corporate campus is no big deal.
      I've been expecting these for years and will predict here that within ten years every major urban area will have places that rent these puppies by the day. It will be a hell of a lot cheaper then having to pay some crew of halfwits to dig a trench, pour concrete or lay pipe, put in the cable, put the dirt back, and then have to resod.
      Guaranteed that within ten years every organization that does lots of suburban facilities work, from the telcos to McDonalds will be using these things as much as lawyers use Federal Express. Not only that, but like FedEx, they''ll wonder how they ever worked without them.
      Oh, btw, have I mentioned what a HUGE difference this will make for techies building homes in out-of-the way places? Bought a chunk of land with no phone/cable/sewer for half a mile? If you can get the right of-way, it's just not gonna matter that much anymore.

      NASA: 10
      dimwitted, Proxmire-esque naysayers: zip.


      Rustin

    • Do you have a better plan for getting through the ice on Europa?
    • I don't understand what you have a problem with. These drills seem like a very worthwhile scientific tool, and the investment has been miniscule -- $750k wouldn't even rattle in NASA's pocket, diminished as it is.

      I mean, don't you think exploring Mars and Europa is part of NASA's mandate? Or are you just trolling?

  • by vreeker (264162) <slashdot@opid.ca> on Monday November 11, 2002 @09:54AM (#4642163) Homepage
    Main Street, Got Milk?, Calif.

    Got an interest in changing your town's name? The California Milk Processor Board, which is behind the "Got Milk?" advertising campaign, wants to rename a small town in California.

    Last month, it wrote to the mayors of 20 of them, asking them to consider a change -- to Got Milk?, Calif. It offered to build a Got Milk? museum and to make a contribution to local schools. Only one town -- Biggs, population 1,793 -- expressed any interest. But last week, a town meeting voted it down.

    I dunno about you - but that doesn't sound like inchworm robot drills... Did I miss something in the article? I think someone mucked up copying and pasting or NYT's backend hiccuped.

  • New "Worm" Mining Rockets: Gerentied to be able to extract all usable minrals from 3000 cubic meters of average density rock. Using advanced tecnology based on Earth's own inch worms the rockets war head will, on impact, imediatly start burowng into the surface of the planet or planetiod of your choice.

    Chack out our other fine Space Crafts based on Earth wild life: "Eagle Scout" Surveillance Drone, and "Sparky the Retrever" unmand retreval ship.
  • by tolleyl (580010) on Monday November 11, 2002 @09:57AM (#4642181)
    I'm not sure that this will be the best way to perform some deep drilling experiments on Europa since you will be drilling through various forms of ice. The friction of the cutting heads could melt the ice and force the robot to deal with liquids rather than solids. Since the temperature there is so cold it would be easier to have a radiothermal battery that would provide the heat to simply melt through the ice. You have your probe be heavier than water so that it will displace the liquid and melt some more. When you want to resurface, drop some ballast and melt your way back up. However, for places like Mars and many places on Earth, a self-contained drill of this sort would be very useful.
    • by Smidge204 (605297) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:35AM (#4642390) Journal
      The problem with melting is that it takes a LOT of energy. The surface of Europa is 130K (-143C, -225F). That means to need to heat the Ice to 0C, then supply enough energy to melt it...

      Keep in mind that the rest of the ice in the area is still going to be at -143C. (or very near -143C, if it's immediately adjactent to the driller) So you have to supply enough heat to make up for conduction losses in order to raise the temperature.

      As a home experiment, try piercing an ice cube with a soldering iron. Takes longer than you thought, doesn't it? Now imagine the ice cube to be the size of the moon, and the temperature of the ice and surrounding air was come 170 degrees colder.

      The heat generated from the friction of cutting blades would be absolutely negligable at -143C.
      As another home experiment, try drilling through an ice cube. It's not going to melt all that much (if at all). Now imagine the ice cube to be the size of the moon, and the temperature of the ice and surrounding air was come 170 degrees colder.

      Melting may be 'simpler' in that it mas no moving parts, but drilling is by far more practical.

      Anyone care to offer an estimation on the dimentions of the probe? I'll gladly work out the actual power required to melt the ice and maintain a liquid barrier around it at these temperatures.
      =Smidge=
      • I'm not sure about your energy argument. Consider the old test of the wire with two weights on either side. The wire slowly sinks through the block of ice. High pressure is a way to move through ice with little energy cost(the ice freezes again on the other side). Screwing through the ice could make sense(it's a way to create high pressure). Maybe combine it with some salt analogy. Although a teflon analogy would be more valuable(water molecules not sticking to the side).

        I wonder where the energy comes from. Nuclear?
        • That's it. Plain screwing. The possibility of using high pressure to locally melt the ice is an interesting way to optimize the process(how much?), but the basics is screwing. As a process it's more robust too. Don't want to be blocked by a stone
      • Thanks for that - good points.

        One thought.

        I imagine any Europa probe is going to need an RTG to produce electricity. These use the decay of Pu238 to produce heat which then generates electricity.

        Has anyone any idea how much heat one of these things produces - and would that be enough to heat the probe sufficiently so that it sinks through the ice?

        Thanks,
        Mike.

      • Actually, there has been done a lot of research on this, google for cryobot [google.com]. They performed some really cool (pun intended! :-) ) experiments at the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago, which is a well suited research center for anything that is cold and icy. As it happens, one of the main arguments is one cited in the caption of this page [nasa.gov]:

        The Cryobot method of "drilling" is more effective than conventional augering because it uses less power than mechanical cutting.

        So while you're right in that melting requires a lot of energy, so does drilling. Being a glacier mountaineer, I can tell you that screwing in an ice-bolt is often really heavy work.

      • by staticdaze (597246) on Monday November 11, 2002 @01:06PM (#4643335)
        Pretty much correct, except for a minor nitpick. By looking at the Phase Diagram for Water [sbu.ac.uk] and the Atmospheric Pressure on Europa [wikipedia.org] (10^-6 Pa), you would only need to warm the ice to about 210 K, or -63C. That saves about half the work that you implied (but granted it'd still require some decent energy to accomplish).
        • Pretty much correct, except for a minor nitpick. By looking at the Phase Diagram for Water and the Atmospheric Pressure on Europa (10^-6 Pa), you would only need to warm the ice to about 210 K, or -63C

          The pressure is going to increase fairly rapidly as you descend. So you would need increasing amounts of heat the further down you go, assuming a homogenous temperature in the ice.

        • Generally, warming the ice is not the problem- it's the melting part that uses a lot of energy. Accoridng to the internet, the heat of fusion for water is 334.44 J/g, compared to a specific heat 4.18 J/g per deg C. So melting a certain amount of water taks as much energy as raising it's temperature the 80 deg C from -143 to the -63 you're claiming. Not to mention that the higher you bring the temperature, the more energy you'll loose to heat radiation into the surrounding ice.
          Yeah, drilling through ice sounds silly, but there's a reason.

      • As a home experiment, try piercing an ice cube with a soldering iron. Takes longer than you thought, doesn't it?

        Gawd! That took forever! Oh, wait. Was I supposed to plug it in first?
    • You've also got huge ship-eating plants to worry about.

      </obligatory 2010 reference>
  • Money?!? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by natron 2.0 (615149)
    Since I was unable to read the article, I have but one question. WHo is funding this? Just when NASA is nearing its last penny it comes up with this? I guess more tax dollars will pay for this one. Why not spend some of that money exploring our own planet. There are expansive depths of the oceans that have life forms we have yet to discover, same goes for the rainforests. Why not procure some tax dollars and explore them. If we can devise a way for man, dog, and even robotic inchworms to get to space I am certain that with some ingenuity we can reach the depths of the oceans and possibly come up with the discovery of our life time.

    • by Dot.Com.CEO (624226) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:10AM (#4642251)
      Exploration cannot be measured by money spent or investment. The same goes to knowledge. If NASA's mission advances the knowledge we humans have of Mars, I say it is worth doing it.

      It has just been forty years since astronauts / cosmonauts were celebrities, heroes, and a rocket launch was an event. Now, astronauts are glorified tv repairmen and a launch is no longer measured by its success or the limits it breaks but by the money it wastes.

      I doubt there will be a lot of surprise in what we find in exploring the Earth's oceans, comparatively speaking. The surprises that can come from the exploration of an alien planet, however, can be revolutionary.

    • Re:Money?!? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@[ ]mail.com ['hot' in gap]> on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:49AM (#4642463) Journal
      Since I was unable to read the article, I have but one question. WHo is funding this?

      NASA has awarded a three-year contract to Honeybee Robotics. The total bill is $750,000. That's only $250k per year. Not chump change, but really a drop in NASA's budget. There's a significant potential return on their investment. Yes, they need to focus on whatever their priorities are, but they can't keep the blinders on and ignore promising new technology that might be used on the next mission--it's like saying, "We're still getting data from Voyager, so we better not think about designing Galileo, Cassini, or any other probes."

      Why not spend some of that money exploring our own planet. There are expansive depths of the oceans that have life forms we have yet to discover, same goes for the rainforests. Why not procure some tax dollars and explore them.

      For the record, NASA does spend quite a bit of money on research projects directed at the earth. There are a lot of surveys that are only practical from orbit. Further, I agree with you--some research funds could be very well spent on investigating our forests, and there's some truly fascinating (and potentially useful) stuff in the depths of our oceans.

      But--there's always a but. That sort of research isn't part of NASA's mandate. Asking why NASA doesn't direct funding to oceanic exploration is like asking the Department of the Interior to help manage the Australian Outback. If you think that NASA is spending too much on developing techniques for future planetary exploration, then write to your congresscritter and demand that the appropriate amount of funding be transferred to another research agency.

    • Even aside from how massively useful this project is (see my post above), if you *really* want to talk money then think of it this way. Honeybee Robotics is on Elizabeth street, south of Houston. Go to MapQuest and take a look. It's close enough to the WTC site to have been utterly shut off last year for the better part of two months. It's also rght across town from Hoberman (makers of the expanding sphere that ThinkGeek has featured) and a few blocks from Lafayette, which is home to a dying and desperate community of tech folks.
      Less then ten years ago you could go to Canal Street (about ten blocks south of Honeybee) and find an amazing group of tech stores, with everything from circuit boards, occilliscopes, and soldering irons to rod and sheet stock to 1920's vacuum processing equipment and Bakelite insulators.
      Almost all of that is gone now because New York's culture (and government) gives no support to real techies who use things like drill presses and assembler code. While they were feeding vast piles of money into Silicon Alley and calling people working in Flash and Visual Basic "engineers", people like Honeybee have been treated like shit.
      Oh, and btw, when the WTC stuff happened and all the cash was being handed out, not a dollar went to a single techie I know, despite the fact that we were among the hardest hit. When I tried to explain this to people from FEMA and the Mayor's office all that I got were blank looks and *more* blather about dot.com jobs.
      So I say hell yeah! Let's see some support for tech in New York for a change. We've earned it.
      -Rustin

      • Sorry, off topic, but if anyone deserves money from the "WTC" attacks, it is the families of those who died in the Pentagon. They didn't get the 1mil government buy off that the civie families got. They got military compensation of less than 50K.
  • Military application (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Gorgonzola (24839)
    Sounds like an effective, though slow, way of delivering a nice amount of explosives in deeply buried bunkers. Or have I been playing too much Tiberian Sun with its underground tanks?
    • That sounds like a much better alternative to using nukes for that purpose. It might also accomplish another good thing: these people might be able to get their hands on some relatively miniscule portion of the US military budget, which would be a lot of funding. That would lead to further development of something which is really cool, if nothing else.
  • by toxic666 (529648) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:05AM (#4642217)
    When you drill through a solid material, you generate "cuttings." Since these cuttingshave voids, their volume is greater than the orginal solid material and must be removed from the bore hole. That's why burying rodents have mounds at the entrance to their holes. How is a robotic inchworm going to remove the cuttings? Will it drag them back out of the hole to the surface? I'm sure that won't be very efficient at depths of several kilometers, because for each few inches it drills, it has to back out to the surface to dispose of the cuttings. That is why robots are not practical for drilling.
    • "When you drill through a solid material, you generate "cuttings." Since these cuttingshave voids, their volume is greater than the orginal solid material and must be removed from the bore hole. That's why burying rodents have mounds at the entrance to their holes. How is a robotic inchworm going to remove the cuttings?"
      You are thinking that it will leave a tunnel behind it. It doesn't need to do that, it can leave the cuttings behind and plug the hole behind it as it goes. All it needs to do then to get out is to drill a new hole going up.

      • Your forgetting that the volume of the cuttings is larger than the raw material as there is a lot of wasted space you would have to recompress the cuttings and thats would be a lot of energy.
        • not necessary...just follow the good old earthworm principle...convey the cuttings thru the body of the bot and leave them behind. earthworms done leave any significant holes..they use uncompressed space in the soil and theyre sufficiently long and narrow/slender.



    • Good point, but I dont think this would be very hard to address. If you notice the drills that were used to dig the chunnel had a debris conveyer system. Holes in the head that fed back to a train. (there was a junk yard war episode where they delt with this very issue). Now since it works like an earth worm( earth worms leave no dirtpile) It will loosen the earth (or europa in this case) then digest it of sorts the poop it out the back just like an earth worm. This system should be designed as such that it is reversable.
      you know if knowone has thought of this before I claim patent rights.
    • I think that they have taken this into consideration.

      In the article, it mentions that they had designs for both an "inchworm" welding robot and then a drilling system for exploring Mars. Then, the article says, the combined the features from both designs to make one singular design.

      I have no idea what either design looked like originally, but I'm picturing some kind of base station that's above ground at the entry point that is helping with the process somehow.

      I also can't help but think that one could avoid the "cuttings" volume problem by using chemical reactions on the debris. Depending on the minerals present, perhaps some could be released in a gaseous form to escape up the hole, and then others turned into a dense sludge trail up the vacated hole. The possible pollution is obvious, but the implications of that kind of pollution are unknown. I'm pretty sure it would be difficult to pollute the practically nonexistant atmosphere with gases.

      Anyway, that's just my .02

    • One of Alexandr Beliaev (Russian sci-fi writer (beginning of the past century)) novels talks about the same kind of thing - the soviets wanted to build a power plant based on heat differences between the earth's surface and the heat found deep underneath the earth crust - the core. So in the novel they built a huge machine - worm, that had enough room to fit in 4 people. As usual in the soviet novels of this type, a little boy, a pioneer, borded the machine without anyone realizing this, and he only showed up when it was already too late and they could not turn back. Another easily predictable twist was that there was a traitor on bord of the worm who would do anything to harm the project (he obviously sold out to the imperial forces of the west) but these details of the plot do not matter. What is interesting was the design of the machine. It had very large drills (what a shock!) on the nose and it had small side drills and it had caterpillars on the sides. On the back it had huge stomping surfaces - legs that would compress the cuttings. So the big drills would crush the soil and the stone, the small drills would help to make more side room, the caterpillars would push the machine forward and would move some of the cuttings to the back where the stompers would compress the cuttings leaving no tunnel. Oh, there also was this little thing - they had to drug cable behind them, and the cable was used for communications and the main point was to run the cable something like 1000 kilometers underground and install a large thermo-pair in some hot cave underground and to allow the cable to be used as the transmitter of the potential. I don't remember exactly, I red it over 15 years ago but it was a neat idea I think for 1920s.
  • by Simon Hibbs (74836) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:11AM (#4642255)
    No registration required :

    http://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-driller-00a3 .h tml

    http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/technolo gy /space_drills_010911-1.html

  • Yeah guess you watched Wrath of Khan while tying to get a idea on how to mine mars, maybe they watched total recall afterwards, I guess thats what makes great ideas further expaning or re-aplying some's memes to a better extent.
  • Technical question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mizhi (186984) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:15AM (#4642276) Homepage
    What happens if this thing finds an underground cavern? How does it react?

    1) Does it attempt to backup and go around?
    2) Drop into the cavern
    3) ... survive the drop?
    4) Get back to the surface?
    • by misterhaan (613272) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:20AM (#4642308) Homepage Journal
      1) Does it attempt to backup and go around? 2) Drop into the cavern 3) ... survive the drop? 4) Get back to the surface?
      5) Profit?
    • For autonomous functionality, it would have to operrate with some sensor equipment - depht, physical and chemical consistensy of material, and so on. A cavern would be indicated by lesser required force to drill and call some sort of investigation routine. This shouldn't prove too big a problem.
    • Interesting question, I'd also like to know the answer. Perhaps there are no caverns where they will be drilling. Earth's crust is rock, and caverns are just open spaces in and between the rock. Maybe they'll be drilling in a material which isn't very likely to have caverns?
  • apparently Com Ed was taken over by a group of convicts who were supposed to be giving something back to society by helping to provide power.

    ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. welcom to con ed. [imdb.com]

  • by tolleyl (580010) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:20AM (#4642300)
    There was another article on slashdot that discussed the upcoming reversal of earth's magnetic field (coincidently released shortly before a movie about the reversal of earth's magnetic field). If this inchworm research progresses well then when the reversal happens we'll be ready for it and won't have to have a last minute attempt to drill to the core with unproven technology and a crew consisting of a tormented captain, a comedic sidekick, several people who end up dying and a surprizingly attractive foreign 'scientist' who ends up hooking up with the captain before he tragically dies. This way we can have an overpriced government funded inchworm that will save the day with a boring military crew with plenty of time to spare. Let's prepare for the future!
  • by brejc8 (223089) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:21AM (#4642310) Homepage Journal
    Life is much more exciting with dyslexia.
  • Earth applications (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Monday November 11, 2002 @10:30AM (#4642357) Homepage
    Can you imagine how easy it would be to lay ethernet cable with these things ? Why if they sold one for, say 200$ it would blow all wireless networks out of the sky, and replace it with something that cannot be interfered with. Cable broken ? Put in a new one, it's only half an hour's work and $5 for 50 meter cable.

    It would also be substantially faster than wireless (10 mbit ? Right ..., wires easily maintain a constant data stream of 100 mbit over 150 meters or more, and even gigabit speeds are within reach for consumers right now)

    This could truly be the internet for Jack Anonymous. The free and open interconnect for everyone, free (well fixed cost of $5 every 10 years or so)
    • by malakai (136531) on Monday November 11, 2002 @12:17PM (#4643012) Journal
      Yeah, because drilling tunnels randomly between two points is childs play. I mean, what could go wrong? Not like anything else is buried underground....

      And who cares if the 10$-15k rental equipment gets stuck under some highway. You can always shut down traffic, bring in the back hoe, break open the pavement, cart of 1/2 ton of concrete and asphalt, and retrieve the device...

      The search and retrieve operation would only cost 300k or so.

      Man, what world do you people live in? Have you ever tried to get trench permits from a city? And you think arbitrary tunnels will be looked more favorable on?

      The EM spectrum is natures peace offering to us to stop fucking drilling holes in her. Lets get some FCC reform, turn the entire spectrum into a shared spectrum with frequency hoping recievers and auto-relays/routers in each consumer device, and use the nearly inifinte amount of bandwidth that electricity and magnetism provide us.

      -malakai
      • Man, what world do you people live in? Have you ever tried to get trench permits from a city?

        I agree the comment was inane, but I also think it's safe to say that most people have never had occasion to request a trench permit. Doesn't invalidate your point, I just found it an odd thing to ask, as if it's the most ordinary thing in the world, something most people do every day.

    • $200? What world do you live in. Hell, a freakin' AIBO still costs over $1000 I'm pretty sure, and these inchworms are looking to be around 100kg worth of (significantly more sophisticated, industrial-grade) hardware.
  • sniff (Score:4, Funny)

    by bjtuna (70129) <brian@interca[ ].net ['rve' in gap]> on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:12AM (#4642596) Homepage
    Erik Baard writes " The NY Times (reg. blah) is currently an article on robotic inchworm drills.

    Welcome to Slashdot. Verbs are optional.
    • Thank you, I was thinking there is a vast verb omission conspiracy on the Internet, intended to drive me insane. The most frightening thing was, there are gaping word holes in almost everything I read on the web, and nobody seems to complain! Now that I have you, I don't feel like a lone victim anymore.
    • Everyone just has so much great stuff to say so fast without proofing. /. format doesn't encourage reflection or delay; what's said late might as well never have been said at all. It won't be read or moderated.

      However, the original post was submitted without deadline pressure AND was approved by a /. editor (are they real? or some kind of bot?). There are a mere handful of articles each day. Shockingly, the verb-impaired submitter evidently does professional writing for the "gray lady" NYT! He didn't even spell his own name right! :P

      Shame, shame! (Hey! There no verb! I good /.r, yes.)

      I admit, my usual error in haste is to substitute similar words for what I intend. Leads to misunderstandings.

      Oh -- interesting article though!
  • I much preferred the robo-bartender! Can't wait for a robo-lover who doesn't talk back and does what I want. Petra
  • by Hayzeus (596826) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:25AM (#4642664) Homepage
    I'm no expert, but how practical is it to lay radio relays along the depth of the hole?

    My understanding is that in the (terrestrial) drilling industry, telemetry from the bottom of a borehole is a major problem, with RF being pretty much unworkable -- I assume because of the amount of ferrous material in the borehole itself. Anybody out there who works in oil exploration care to comment?

    • I used to work in the field of Oilfield Services. It's a pretty tech field - Potential oilwells can be probed with just about the entire electromagnetic spectrum - There are even mini linear particle accelerators used for high energy measurements. This diagram [slb.com] shows a typical instrumentation string - Note that it's about 15m long. The truck that delivers this downhole will have several km of heavy armored cable to talk to this thing.

      Borehole conditions can be pretty nasty - So-called HEL (Hostile Environment Logging) can take place under conditions of 15KPSI pressure and a few hundred degrees F. Tough to keep the electronics alive at that temperature, but it is done in the industry.

    • There is a new kind of drill bit with bidirectional 1Mbps bandwidth built-in. Check out the press release [energy.gov].

      "The key to the new system is a unique non-contacting coupler embedded in connections between 30-foot long sections of drill pipe. The coupler permits data to be sent across the connection and on through a high-speed cable attached to the inner pipe wall."
  • by Cheesemaker (36551) on Monday November 11, 2002 @11:27AM (#4642675) Journal
    Didn't the monolith tell us to stay away from Europa?

  • let's assume we are designing one of these robots.

    1.What would be its size?small as a worm or as big as a chunnel digger(the beasts that dig the tunnel between good old england and france,they were BIG as long as 2 football fields and over 6 mts in diameter)

    2.what sort of power source would it use?Radio thermal?fission pack?

    3.how would the guidance work?Totally Autonomous?guided?

    It would be nice to know what /.s think abt one

  • NASA, the problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday November 11, 2002 @01:48PM (#4643659) Homepage
    It's unfortunate that Honeybee, which has done some good industrial robots, has been sucked into the NASA black hole. NASA robotics work sucks up good people from industrial robotics and wastes their time on space robots that never launch.

    There have been some big flops, like the Flight Telerobotic Servicer, on which several hundred million dollars were blown.

  • Makes me think of tornado drills in school... "All right class, when you hear the alarm, flop to the ground and wriggle around until you battery goes dead..."
  • Mmmmm...honey beer.

    What's "obotics"?
  • All These Worlds Are Yours, Except Europa, Attempt No Landing There
  • The Transhab module back in the day was toted in a simmilar way. For those that don't remember the hype, TransHab was going to be a huge, house-sized inflatable living and study area to be added to the International Space Station. It or something exactly like it would have been used on future lunar or Mars missions, and it would become a piece of commodity hardware.

    The F1 booster, the first SSTO launch vehicle, was scrapped too after it was made into commodity hardware to launch lunar modules into orbit for testing and deployment.

    Now NASA is showing off a new piece of commodity hardware: A drilling robot that could be loaded onto two very different missions. From an engineering perspective, such a reliable piece of equipment would make sense and be considered a useful and productive way to spend taxpayers' money, right?

    That's right. It'll make sense. The more sense it makes, the less likely it is that NASA will keep using it.
  • I wonder...

    Maybe I have it wrong, but where is this ice supposed to go while you're drilling down 2 kilometers? I may not be thinking the right way, but here's my train of thought...

    1) You drill a hole (say 1 foot diameter)

    2) You are not half a mile deep

    3)Now that you're "drilling," inside this tiny (diameter) hole, where do these ice-chips go? They don't evaporate, right? Won't the drill eventually become crushed and trapped in it's own hole?

  • I don't see any mention of the power source, unless reading the /. comments sucked that information out of my brain. Anyway, what are they planning to use to power this thing? I would expect this to be a major issue considering the long running time required to drill so far down.

    Maybe they should use solar panels?

  • I have a hobby. I have the world's largest collection of sea shells. I keep
    it scattered on beaches all over the world. Maybe you've seen some of it.
    -- Steven Wright

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