DARPA Looks for Tunneling Breakthroughs

DARPA is funding breakthroughs in tunneling. The Underminer project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of rapidly constructing tactical tunnel networks to provide secure logistics infrastructure to pre-position supplies or resupply troops as they move through an area.

General Electric Research Center and Colorado School of Mines will focus on development of an integrated solution for Underminer technology and operational needs.

Colorado School of Mines has a web page dedicated to their new tunneling project.

Mike Mooney and his Colorado School of Mines team are using AI to characterize ground conditions, learn how to tunnel really fast, and minimize tunneling-induced building deformation.

Tunnel boring machines (TBMs) excavate through highly uncertain and poorly characterized heterogeneous soil and rock. TBM interaction with the ground is very complex, with dozens of integrated processes governing the efficiency and effectiveness of tunnel construction. Such complex processes in highly unknown environments are ideal for AI intelligent learning, a process whereby the TBM learns-while-doing, continuously improving its performance to best achieve the tunneling objectives. In this research we are using artificial intelligence techniques and constrained optimization to learn and implement the best tunneling strategy for the encountered ground.

There will be the development of rapid tunneling.

Boring Company Tunnel Machines
Elon Musks Boring Company is not directly involved in the DARPA project. They are leaders in developing faster tunneling.

The first three boring machines used by The Boring Company are:

Godot, a conventional tunnel boring machine made by Canadian company Lovat, which is used for research purposes.
Line-storm, a highly modified conventional boring machine. In February 2019, Elon Musk estimated in a tweet that Line-storm would be active “in a month or so”.
Prufrock is a BoringCompany designed machine. It is slated to support a 15x improvement in tunneling speed over the existing state of the art in 2017. It has the same diameter as a Dragon spacecraft (3.7 metres (12 ft)). In February 2020, Prufrock was shown assembled in a Twitter post.

Colorado School of Mines is also looking at Large-Diameter Tunnel Lining Design, Dynamic Risk Mapping and Midtown Immersed Tube Tunnel Analysis.

Sandia National Laboratories will conduct technology exploration and integration to address current process and system limitations.

The performers will focus on tunneling approaches, downhole sensing, and operations concepts. Underminer seeks to merge breakthroughs in horizontal drilling, trenchless boring technologies, and robotics to create a set of systems allowing consistent underground access.

Fast creation of tactical tunnels could benefit contingency operations such as rapid ammunition resupply, rescue missions and other functions.

Tunneling Industry

Recent years have seen significant advances in tunneling equipment and materials. TBM (Tunnel Boring Machines) and microtunneling equipment with enhanced data acquisitions, cutter/tool wear monitoring and replacement capabilities. All forms of tunnel lining — precast segmental, cast-in-place, and shotcrete — have benefited from advances in steel and synthetic fiber.

SOURCES- DARPA, Colorado School of Mines, Tunneling Online, Boring Company
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

22 thoughts on “DARPA Looks for Tunneling Breakthroughs”

  1. Tactical tunneling? That’s a thing now? I thought most tunneling is on timescales that would make it pretty hard use, even for prepositioning stuff…

    The israeli army do something sorta similar in dense urban environments, where they just blow holes in building walls between their start and destination. Seems quicker than tactical tunneling…

  2. If the military starts building tunnels, they’ll run into all the tunnels and underground areas already built. Humans have been tunneling for the last century, it’s not that hard.

  3. And the casino owner? What of the mental stress that such a heist would place on him? Why we expect he would merely go into politics, perhaps a presidential run, thus placing him in a position from which he would no longer be able to harm anyone.

  4. At least phased array directional sound transmitters at incredible energy levels that can cause liquefaction of the material within a confined beam. Overall it just seems easier to teleport the material out and the support structures in moments later.

  5. Melting requires a lot more energy than fracturing. Look at pictures of oil drilling bits. They are generally spiky wheels that apply point pressure to break the rock. Then you wash away the broken material from the drilling face.

  6. Musk showed it was possible to innovate in tunneling, so Darpa is going to look into it. NASA maybe should try it too since its rocket will soon be a museum piece.

  7. My laser fantasy is you setup a swarm of giant pulsed lasers near the entrance, vector the combined beam into the tunnel, and hit points on the face with enough energy to vaporize material and create shock waves that crumble the surrounding surface. Dust might be one of the many problems, but nothing insurmountable, in my fantasy. Oh i forgot about atmospheric interference, so you have to take the lasers with you as you go or drill bore holes along the way and have them follow on the surface.

  8. Good. I would love big tunneling breakthroughs, it would be great to travel in a maglev train, underground, going supersonic.

  9. They generally are very hard wheels rather than teeth. They just press these wheels against the rock surface with enough force to break the rock as they roll (pressing hydraulically from the sides of the tunnel). At least that is the conventional method.
    That said, I don’t know how long it takes to change a wheel. Maybe that can be accelerated/automated if needed.
    I have a completely new design, which I believe will be much faster. Someday, maybe I will build it. No, it is not nuclear rock melting, or laser fantasies 😉 Life is not a comic book. Though, Elon’s tail landing rockets may constitute an exception to that rule of thumb.

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