The days of labor-intensive underground excavation for utilities might one day become a thing of the past. And it is all because of advancements in robotics.
The world of robotics is evolving right before our very eyes. In just the past 20 years we have seen incredible advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robots that specialize in everything from boring through ice to flying and driving. And there are a plethora of additional use cases for robots and even biobots – the newest of which is the ability to dig trenches of all shapes and sizes. I can definitely see this type of functionality being extremely helpful to utility companies in all 3 sectors, as gas lines, water lines, and an increasing percentage of electric lines are buried underground.
Risks of Robotic Underground Excavation
That said, there are some potential risks in my mind. I believe it will prove extremely difficult to bring the technology to a level where underground bots can navigate all types of landscapes and climates – each geologic environment will likely require a different set of “robot skills” to navigate.
Similarly, obstacles like tree roots, rocks and boulders, and existing underground infrastructure will be difficult to manage. The level of engineering that would be required to build machines that can analyze and handle these types of environments is beyond what our technology is capable of today.
Additionally, right now these robots do not handle curves and dips particularly well, and they are expensive to operate.
The technology required to build robots able to accurately, effectively and efficiently perform underground excavation for gas lines, water mains and laterals, and buried power lines is not ready for prime time yet. But once it is, the world will be better off for it!