Rapid deployment of multi-functional modular sensing systems in the soil

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Civil & Environmental Engineering


Understanding the state of soil and key soil parameters (stress level, stiffness, permeability, strength) is
essential to inform effective and efficient decisions about how humans should interact with soil deposits.
Challenges associated with obtaining undisturbed samples mean that probes that can measure these
properties in-situ are incredibly useful. Informed by recent prototyping work at the Georgia Institute of
Technology, the team will develop a self-propelled Burrowing Robot with an Integrated Sensor System
(BRISS). The BRISS design will build upon the strength of the well-established cone penetration in-situ
test and exploit recent developments in robotics, bio-inspired engineering, numerical modeling and
machine learning. The research objectives identified as necessary to achieve this goal are to: (i) Design,
build and deploy a robotized sensor delivery system in the soil, and model the borrowing process; (ii)
Sense mechanical and physical signals during the burrowing process and adapt the soil exploration using
machine-learning; (iii) Interpret the recorded signals with innovative particulate mechanics, tribology,
large deformation continuum mechanics models and feature selection algorithms. An inter-disciplinary
team of scholars from the Georgia Institute of Technology (GT) and Imperial College London (ICL) will
collaborate to achieve these objectives. The team will co-advise a cohort of graduate students and postdoctoral
researchers. They will actively engage with each other via video conferencing, workshops and
mutual visits.

Planned Impact

BRISS will achieve a paradigm shift in soil exploration and site characterization. Both the sensor modules
and the propulsion sections of the BRISS will be stackable, so that probes can be built up with different
combinations of modules or the same modules but in different configurations. From the outset, the
proposed technology will be developed to enable future expansion to include additional sensor modules.
BRISS will be minimally wired, thus the project findings will pave the way towards wireless, remotely
controlled, multi-directional subsurface sensing. Such technologies will ultimately enable deep sediment
characterization and extra-terrestrial exploration. The long-term deployment of multi-sensing probes
could be used to detect variations of soil properties that are independent from localized probe stimuli,
such as pH change consequent to mining activities or pore pressure change consequent to repeated
droughts. Results of this project will be disseminated through journal publications, presentations at
national and international conferences, students' theses, workshops and course materials on bio-inspired
geotechnics. The PIs will strive to recruit a diverse body of students to work on the project, in particular
through GT Vertically Integrated Projects program, and will actively engage with under-represented
minorities, women and the LGBTQ community. ICL is one of very few universities in the UK to hold a
Silver Athena Swan Award, which recognizes initiatives to advance the careers of women in STEMM.


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