Boring can be a frustrating and expensive process especially when you encounter rocks that can destroy your equipment. Powered by machine vision, a new tunnelling or drilling robot can micro tunnel through the toughest conditions faster and more reliably than conventional methods. According to the company, its next-gen drilling robot can bore through rock considered too challenging for other tunnelling machines.

Introducing Petra’s Semi-Autonomous Drilling Robot, Swifty

Petra, the first robotics company that can tunnel critical utilities through the hardest surfaces have announced the successful completion of a 20-foot demonstration tunnel. The semi-autonomous, contactless drilling robot tunnelled through the hardest rock on earth and received Series A funding led by DCVC, the leading Deep Tech venture company.

This new hard rock drilling robot is transforming the way all utilities are buried underground by addressing the biggest issue in underground construction. We are talking about the process of boring utility tunnels reliably and cost-effectively through near-impossible geologies.

For any company putting utilities underground, this capability is essential to meet the increasing demand for energy while avoiding grid-related disasters whether man-made or natural. Here is the full press release.

The First-Ever Non-Contact Thermal Drilling Robot

Petra is the first to develop a non-contact, thermal-drilling method that can bore 60-inch diameter micro tunnels through hard rock. This makes it possible to bore utility tunnels through previously impenetrable geologies. Considering that conventional micro-tunnelling machines (mTBM) are purpose-built for a single diameter, Petra can bore a range of diameters between 20 and 60 inches. Not only is this more practical but it will also significantly reduce the costs of tunnelling.

The company also offers the first reverse-tunnelling technology which is just as impressive. With the cost of cutter heads in mind, and the frequency at which they break, Petra’s technology makes machine maintenance and cutter head rescue possible. Petra is leading the way and enabling customers to bore critical utilities at a fraction of the cost of legacy techniques. This includes construction services, tunnel development and ongoing maintenance.

How Does Swifty Work?

Petra previously used plasma to melt the rocks so they could drill through tough surfaces but the extreme heat above 10,000°F (Over 5,500°C) effectively turned the rocks into lava. This led to Petra doing some R&D which resulted in the company turning to somewhat colder options.

Kim Abrams, the founder of Petra, told CNBC in an interview that “the drilling robot can bore a 24-inch tunnel through 20 feet of Sioux Quartzite, the hardest rock on earth … harder than bluestone granite … the type of rock that would normally have to be dynamited”.

Swifty also has sensors attached to small rods which will touch the rock but the excavation process is carried out by only applying heat and gas. The semi-autonomous drilling robotic system can create 18-60 inch (46-152 cm) diameter tunnels through the hardest geologies with a non-contact thermal drill.

As mentioned previously, it melts any type of rock by heating a mixture of gas to apply heat above 1,800° Fahrenheit (982° Celcius) that breaks rocks into small pieces.

What Is Petra Planning For The Future?

Petra intends to do further testing of its method outside the laboratory on various projects. This involves various rock types such as granite, dolomite, limestone, and basalt to try and prove that its method can work in places like California, Colorado, and the Appalachian Mountains.

While drills are used in various fields from DIY projects to brain surgery, Swifty is one of a kind drilling robot that simply uses heat without touching the surface. Petra is the first robotics company to focus solely on undergrounding utilities and has solved one of the biggest problems in utility infrastructure today: how to inexpensively underground utilities in the most difficult conditions.

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