WOOD DALE, IL—Linear motion control manufacturer Thomson Industries Inc., recently sponsored the Dirt-Torpedo, a device built by DHBW Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University students, that competed in Elon Musk's "Not-a-Boring Competition" for tunnel building last month. The Dirt-Torpedo uses CANopen drives from Thomson in three propulsion systems.

Nearly 400 teams applied for the event but only 12 competed in the finals, which were held late in September at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). Its boring team was the overall winner of the inaugural competition.

In fall 2020, Elon Musk’s Boring Company announced the competition with the dual goal of drilling a tunnel faster than a snail and building a tunnel infrastructure required for quick, safe and comfortable transit at a low cost. Teams competed to build a tunnel boring machine (TBM) and drill a tunnel in the Mojave Desert with a 0.5-meter diameter and a 30-meter length.

The bored tunnels were judged in three categories: Time to drill the tunnel, time to drill the tunnel and to complete the tunnel wall as well as accuracy to reach the end of the tunnel. According to the principle of "Can you beat the snail?", the focus of the competition was on speed and precisely on developing technologies that make the TBM faster than an ordinary garden snail, which is roughly 14 times the speed of today's TBMs.

Two of the 12 finalists were located in Germany. The other teams were from Switzerland (1), UK (2), USA (5), and mixed teams from USA and Canada, and India, respectively.

The Dirt-Torpedo team consisted of 10 students studying at DHBW Mosbach, DHBW Ravensburg Campus Friedrichshafen, and TU Darmstadt. Among the team members are students of mechanical engineering, virtual engineering, electrical engineering, and computational engineering. Professor Gangolf Kohnen and lecturer Klaus Juengling from DHBW Mosbach supported the team.

The Dirt-Torpedo boring machine’s design/functionality is similar to that of an earthworm, and the Thomson Electrak HD actuators are required for three propulsion units that are the key factor in the boring machine’s movement. The 20 sponsored Electrak HD electric actuators are tested on CANopen conformity by CiA. Another of the many other sponsors is Syslogic supplying its AI (artificial intelligence) host controller.

“We [were] really excited to be one of the finalists in this competition,” says Adrian Fleck of team Dirt-Torpedo. “We needed a reliable and efficient partner to ensure that the tunnel boring machine construction process runs smoothly. The Electrak HD CANopen actuators are incredibly compact and robust, and the CAN network technology makes them even more flexible and offers a more precise control of the machine.”