‘Digging’ robot can locate objects concealed by granular media

A researcher from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a robot that can search for objects buried beneath sand and other granular media.

The so-called Digger Finger, which features a GelSight sensor — a vision-based tactile sensor — can reportedly penetrate granular media to locate concealed objects.

According to the research, the prototype penetrates the granular media via mechanical vibrations that cause the granular media to take on fluid-like properties, whereas current tactile sensors used for similar functions are typically jammed by the granular media. Meanwhile, high resolution tactile sensing enables the identification of the objects concealed by the granular media.

The prototype is being considered for applications including deep sea exploration and mining. The robot could also potentially be used to conduct explosive ordnance disposal and improvised explosive device (IED) detection functions, and buried cable retrieval operations.

The Digger Finger is detailed in a paper titled “Digger Finger: GelSight Tactile Sensor for Object Identification Inside Granular Media,” which appears in the journal arXiv.

To contact the author of this article, email donlon@globalspec.com