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