Rock climbing robot

A robot able to prevent landslides, whose development involved funding from both the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA), has been tested successfully in Italy.

Roboclimber is a four tonne robot able to climb vertical slopes and drill deep holes into solid rock walls – typically the first step in the procedure to stabilise walls at risk of landslides.

‘It was amazing to see how easily this huge robot managed to operate on a very steep slope to secure a rocky mountain wall,’ said Guglielmo Berlasso, Director of the civil protection office in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, where the demonstration took place.

Landslides are a major problem in Italy, where more than 400 take place every year, causing damage estimated at 1.2 billion euro. Landslides have also been responsible for huge losses of life. Between 1900 and 2000, Italy lost 5939 people to landslides.

When in action, Roboclimber is held in place by two wires fixed at the top of the slope on which it is mounted. Drilling is controlled remotely using technology originally developed to control robots in space.

An onboard web camera enables the operator to manoeuvre Roboclimber into the correct position, execute drilling and insert rods to secure rock faces. The robot is able to drill holes up to 20 metres long with a diameter of up to 76mm in any rock and on any gradient.

Crucially, Roboclimber also takes away the safety risk involved in traditional procedures to secure rock walls.

The project participants are now evaluating the possibilities for getting Roboclimber onto the market. ‘A new start-up company will guarantee the continuity and availability of our expertise. We intend to provide other services using Roboclimber technology, as well as market the Roboclimber platform,’ explains Giorgio Pezzuto from D’Appoloni, one of the project partners.

The project was funded under the European Commission’s Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), and has also benefited from ESA’s technology transfer programme.