Harvard’s Wyss Institute engineers have built a new robot that autonomously drives interlocking sheet piles into the ground.
According to the engineers, conventional sheet pile driving processes are extremely energy intensive and only a fraction of the weight of typical heavy machinery is used for applying downward force.
The Romu robot, on the other hand, is able to leverage its own weight to drive sheet piles into the ground.
It does this by coupling its four wheels to a separate linear actuator – which also allows it to adapt to uneven terrain and ensure that the piles are driven vertically.
Romu uses a raised position to grip a sheet pile and then lowers its chassis, pressing the pile into the soil with the help of an on-board vibratory hammer.
By gripping the pile again at a higher position and repeating this process, the robot can drive a pile much taller than its own range of vertical motion.
After driving a pile to sufficient depth, Romu advances and installs the next pile such that it interlocks with the previous one, thereby forming a continuous wall.
The Wyss team currently envisions these robots working together as a collective or swarm.
They could make use of environmental cues like slope steepness in order to build walls in effective locations, while utilizing limited resources.
“By responding in real-time to the conditions they actually encounter as they work, the robots can adapt to unexpected or changing situations, without needing to rely on a lot of supporting infrastructure for abilities like site surveying, communication, or localization,” says senior research scientist Justin Werfel.
The team is also investigating robotic interventions ranging from groundwater retention structures for supporting agriculture in arid regions, to responsive flood barrier construction for hurricane preparedness.
Future versions of the robot could be used to perform other interventions such as spraying soil-binding agents or installing silt fencing.
Image and content: Wyss Institute at Harvard University