Hole Digging Drone Designed to Probe Hostile Environments

The number of services that drones can provide is increasing at an exciting rate. A new drone developed by NIMBUS, a research group from the University of Nebraska, has been designed to be launched from a plane, fly to a particular location, drop down to the ground, dig a hole, leave sensors in the ground, and then fly away.

The project aims to give people a way to monitor hostile and hard-to-reach environments. NIMBUS starts off in a plane or helicopter which ejects the entire assembly from a canister. The canister then free falls for a little bit before being slowed down by a parachute. Sensing the ground approaching, the drone releases itself from the canister then flies down to the ground.  Next, it drills a hole in the ground using the onboard drill to place a sensor at the bottom of the hole. When the job is complete, the drone will fly back to the operators.

One of the main limiting factors to how drones operate is their weight limit. Drones can only fly for so long while carrying a heavy payload which is why a helicopter or plane is used to get the drone close enough to its target. This ensures that the drone has enough battery power to deliver the payload and return home before running out of power.

Carrick Detweiler, one of the directors at NIMBUS, stated that battery-powered drones have very short flight times of around 20 minutes max. That time is severely reduced when heavy loads are included. The digging apparatus and sensors are very heavy equipment so they will need to be delivered using another vehicle. This allows the drones to save energy for the return trip since the drone is the most expensive part of the rig and it would be way too expensive to ditch the drone along with the digging apparatus. Larger gas-powered drones with longer flight times could potentially replace these hole digging drones allowing for longer flights.

The sensors on the drone can also tell if the ground is too hard to dig. This allows the team to find another location rather than taking the risk of touching down in an area that the drone’s drill cannot penetrate. The drones that they use are also quieter than most drones making them very useful for military operations. This is just one unique way drones are being used.

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