Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Civil Engineering


This Fellowship vision is to develop the fundamental science that will bring a step-change in the design and development of burrowing robotics that are in perfect synchrony and harmony with the surrounding ground. This will enable much more efficient burrowing robots, and will allow:
(1) improving exponentially autonomy through precision sensing of the robot-ground interaction, combined, for the first time, with modelling that provides full sensor feedback to allow for effective control and operation of the robot in response to ground conditions;
(2) quantifying the effects of robots on the ground and other structures within it to minimise disruption;
(3) develop the first autonomous robot capable of burrowing autonomously distances of tens of metres.
The potential applications are numerous and all transformational in their respective fields. Imagine applications such as sensor deployment (e.g. radiation sensors, porewater pressures), ground characterisation, space exploration, agriculture (e.g. ground conditioning and fertilisation) or mine and disaster rescue, to name but a few, and the impact automation would have.
As a demonstrator, MOLE will focus on fibre optic cable laying as it offers a step change on current capabilities with transformative impact like, minimising disruption to the public (streetworks currently cost £4.7Bn per year to the UK economy), reducing the times for installation (i.e. providing better internet access to many faster), and cost reductions (hundreds of millions potentially - BT is heavily supporting this with a strong letter of support). However, besides the focus on this application, all the fundamental work carried out in MOLE is necessary to achieve all of the above applications.

Planned Impact

MOLE has the potential to transform the telecommunications sector initially by allowing the installation of fibre-optic high-speed broadband to thousands of people at an economically viable price. It will therefore affect multiple stakeholders:

- Utility companies and, in particular, telecommunications companies, who will directly benefit from this research by reducing their costs in hundreds of millions as discussed with them.
- Robotic Engineers, who will find a new challenge area open up as a consequence of this research.
- Civil, geotechnical, and utility Engineers engaging with utility work since the improved capability and productivity the proposed robot will bring, will enable new ideas and installations that were not before possible.
- The Public, who will benefit from a higher speed fibre-optic connectivity with potentially lower costs associated to the savings this technology will bring in terms of installation.
- Schools and young people, where we aim to engage as users and inspire and attract as shapers the next generation of scientists/engineers.

Due to the amount of new applications this technology will offer (e.g. agriculture for soil fertilisation and conditioning, space exploration, underground sensor deployment such as radiation fate, or ground investigation) the impact of this research will extend beyond the Fellowship.


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