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drilling through hard rock
January 10, 2022

A contactless drilling robot can bore through the hardest rocks on earth

Boring can be frustrating, and boring (pun intended) when you encounter rocks that can destroy your drilling equipment.

A robot called Swifty, created by a San Francisco-based start-up Petra, can drill through the hardest rocks on the planet, which would normally destroy drilling equipment, using super-heated gas. Petra’s semi-autonomous tunneling robot offers fast and cheap solutions for infrastructure projects.

“Every method that’s commercially available is a high-contact method that grinds up the Earth it contacts in order to remove it,” Kim Abrams, the founder of Petra, says. “This is a completely new way to tunnel.”

How it works

The company previously used plasma to melt the rocks to drill through but the extreme heat above 10,000°F (Over 5,500°C) turned the rocks into lava. This made Petra turn to colder options.

Abrams says the drilling robot can bore a 24-inch tunnel through 20 feet of Sioux Quartzite, “the hardest rock on earth … harder than bluestone granite … the type of rock that would normally have to be dynamited,” as she described in a CNBC interview

The robot has sensors attached to small rods which touch the rock, but the excavation is carried out by applying heat and gas. 

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