Robots Set Explosives For Tunnel Excavation in New System; Japan Academic-Industry Team Works to Protect Employees

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A worker remotely controls a robot in a demonstration for the press in Kawasaki.

Keio University and Obayashi Corp. have developed a remotely controlled system through which robots load explosives into rock to help excavate tunnels.

The first step of tunnel excavation involves drilling holes into rock and loading them with explosives to blast it away. This inevitably involves safety concerns, as workers carry out the task on-site.

According to Keio University associate professor Takahiro Nozaki — who is part of the development team and a specialist in robot engineering — when a worker uses a remote control to mime loading explosives into holes, a robot on the excavation site makes the same movements.

If the robot tries to push explosives into a hole at the wrong angle, the operator can feel the sensation and fine-tune the angle by subtly applying pressure.

The system was unveiled to the press last week at Keio University’s Shin-Kawasaki Advanced Research and Education Collaboration Square in Kawasaki.

“In the future, we want to keep records of workers’ movements and automate all the procedures needed to safely load explosives into the holes,” said a senior official of Obayashi Corp.’s tunnel technology department.

The development team is aiming to test the system in the field in fiscal 2026.