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Not a boring competition: Students from the DHBW reached the final round.

Not-a-Boring Competition: Dirt Torpedo – The Mojave Desert is calling

Success Stories
Patrik Hellmüller

Tech pioneer Elon Musk is committed to the vision of environmentally friendly passenger transportation. With Tesla, he has already initiated the electric transformation of automobiles. But Musk would not be Musk, if he was content with just that. One of his other visions is to move passenger and freight transport into tunnels. But there is one small problem: Building tunnels takes an awfully long time. He wants to change that, which prompted him to launch the Not-a-Boring Competition through his company The Boring Company.

Students from DHBW Mosbach (Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University) are one of twelve teams that qualified for the final round in Los Angeles (see blog article dated 02/25/2021). The tunnel boring machine, called Dirt Torpedo, is currently being assembled in a hall of the mechanical engineering company FFT Produktionssysteme GmbH & Co. KG in Fulda. Time is pressing! The machine is due to be shipped as early as August, so that it can be deployed in the Mojave Desert in September. And, if time permits, it is somehow supposed to be tested in a German quarry beforehand.

The students are supported by numerous companies. One of them is Embedded Specialist Syslogic, which is providing the robust AI-enabled control computers. The three AI computers monitor the position of the tunnel boring machine and control the three Stewart platforms, the core of the Dirt Torpedo. In addition to strong performance, the robustness of the control computers is also crucial. Syslogic’s rugged computers fulfill the IP67 protection class and are among the most robust devices currently available on the market. Accordingly, they are resistant to shock, vibration, dust, and extreme temperatures.

80 percent faster than conventional tunnel boring machines

The targeted objective is ambitious. The Dirt Torpedo is designed to drill through the desert floor at 5.4 m (17.7 ft) per hour. That is 80 percent faster than common tunnel boring machines. It is made possible by a novel concept. The Dirt Torpedo particularly stands out from other tunnel boring machines in three aspects. First: The machine moves by bracing itself in the ground with tire-like segments. Conventional machines prop themselves against the wall or are pushed from behind. Second: The tunnel walls behind the machine are continuously sprayed with concrete and hardener through nozzles that are directly aimed at the walls. Third: The Dirt Torpedo uses a suction excavator to remove the excavated material – conventional machines usually use conveyor belts.

We continue to keep our fingers crossed for the students and are anxious to see how the Dirt Torpedo will perform in the Mojave Desert. We will continue to closely monitor the completion of the machine and the competition in the USA.

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