Until now, tunnels have been drilled in such a way that drills and machines have been used which can only punch holes in the rock by direct contact. There is a startup in San Francisco called Petra, which will make it much easier to drill into the rock without a single contact. To drilling it uses super-hot gas to penetrate bedrock
Swifty autonomous robot
The company has developed a thermal drilling semi-autonomous robot, aptly named “Swifty”. The robot uses a hot high-pressure head that moves the rock without any direct contact. This method could be much cheaper and safer than using stamping machines. The first experiments were carried out by a company in an industrial park in Oakland, California in 2018. Using a plasma torch, it cut into stone. A larger plasma torch cut through the stone slabs at temperatures of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Later, startup Petra stopped using plasma and instead used a mixture of heat gas that has a temperature above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and shatters the rock into small pieces. The excavation is therefore carried out with heat and gas. The device has small sensors on the bars that touch the rock. This is a technology that was partly created by one of Tesla’s co-founders. With the help of this technology, Startup wants to ensure that various companies can easily and cheaply create holes in the rocks in which power lines are placed underground. The company hopes to reduce the cost of burying utilities by 50 to 80 percent. He refuses to give details.
Revolutionary tunneling method
“Every method that’s commercially available is a high-contact method that grinds up the Earth it contacts in order to remove it,” Abrams says. “This is a completely new way to tunnel.”
Petra has been operating undercover since 2018. In a recent demonstration, Swifty created 18- to 60-inch (45-152 cm) diameter tunnels and broke through all types of rocks. The robot dug the tunnel at about an inch per minute.
“No tunneling method has been able to tunnel through this kind of hard rock until now. Petra’s achievement is due to Swifty’s thermal drilling method which efficiently bores through rock without touching it,” Ian Wright, Petra CTO and a Tesla co-founder, said in a statement.
Swifty blasts rock with a mixture of hot gas above 2,000 ° F, breaking the rock into smaller fragments. Once the rock is broken into bits, a powerful vacuum sucks in the fragments, clearing the way for more drilling.
“Petra is able to bore through the hardest geologies on earth, enabling customers to [install] underground utilities in difficult geographical regions most at-risk for wildfires and hurricanes. In addition, we can simplify urban utility projects in cities by allowing engineers to navigate below the maze of existing grid infrastructure, ”according to a company statement.
The equipment is still being tested and in the future may mean a simple and effective way to drill even the toughest rocks.