1st place for Swissloop Tunneling

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Swissloop Tunneling wins with self-developed micro-tunneling machine: It was Gro
Swissloop Tunneling wins with self-developed micro-tunneling machine: It was Groundhog Beta Day!!! Image: Swissloop Tunneling/Empa
At the final of the Not-a-Boring Competition 2024 in Bastrop, Texas, the team from Swissloop Tunneling came out on top thanks to a successful drilling process with a self-developed micro-tunneling machine. The team of students from ETH Zurich, supported by Empa, has thus won this year’s Champion Award. After several years of intensive work, this is a major milestone for the team in the development of highly complex and innovative tunnel drilling technologies.

Before this year’s edition, previous Not-a-Boring Competitions were held in the US in 2021 and 2023. Initiated by Elon Musk and organized by one of his companies - The Boring Company - this competition between student teams from all’over the world is intended to significantly promote the spirit of innovation in tunnel construction. Innovations in the construction of tunnels should help expand current and future underground infrastructure systems and make them more efficient to build. This applies to the expansion of current transportation systems with underground routes. However, increasingly scalable tunnel construction is also essential for as yet unrealized concepts such as Hyperloop, which could be used to transport people and goods at top speed over long distances through tubes in the future.

At the Not-a-Boring Competition in March 2024, the team from Swissloop Tunneling competed with its microtunnel boring machine called Groundhog Beta against the two US teams CU Hyperloop and The Diggeridoos as well as the British The Warwick Boring Team and the Bored Tunnelers from Bangladesh. All participating teams succeeded in winning individual awards for the specific strengths of their team, be it for the degree of innovation, precision, navigation or control of their machine. After Swissloop Tunneling was awarded the innovation prize twice in a row in the previous competitions and finished 2nd both times, the team managed to win the competition for the first time this year and received the Champion Award in late March.

Swissloop Tunneling entered the first Not-a-Boring Competition in 2021 with an initial model called Groundhog Alpha. Certain features of the first micro-tunnel boring machine have been retained since then. However, in the new Groundhog Beta model developed after the first participation, the overall system and subsystems of the first machine were significantly redesigned. This primarily concerns the erosion system, which enables the machine to perform a drilling process that can cope with the soil conditions in Texas. This was necessary, among other things, because the competition was moved from the desert soil in Las Vegas to Bastrop in Texas after 2021, where clay-like, very cohesive soil prevails. The liner mechanism was also redeveloped. This simultaneously produces the wall inside the drilled tunnel as the machine moves forward. Using the liner from Groundhog Beta, a specially produced polymer granulate is now brought into the condition and shape, via an extrusion process, so that the tunnel wall can be formed directly on the surface of the machine.

Implementing such new approaches is not only time-consuming, but also extremely challenging. The optimization for increasing reliability and effectiveness of Groundhog Beta, which intensified in 2023 to 2024, has now made it possible to win the competition in Texas for the first time. "We are particularly proud to have achieved this result due to the challenges successfully overcome and the great commitment of all members" says Eugenio Valli, teamleader of ETH Zurich. However, the success of the student project would not have been possible without the support of numerous partners from industry. They support Swissloop Tunneling in various ways in the project, which the students have been pursuing for years in the workshop and on the test site provided by Empa in Dübendorf.

Swissloop Tunneling will continue the project after the successful 2023/24 season with the ambitious goal of revolutionizing the tunnel construction industry with scalable tunnel boring machines. In doing so, the team aims to accelerate the development of infrastructure systems.

It was Groundhog Beta Day!!!

Swissloop Tunneling is an association of students from ETH Zurich and other universities and is supported by Empa, who made this project possible on its campus in Dübendorf. The team is made up of students from various disciplines, from mechanical engineering to business administration. The team designs, develops and tests its prototype tunnel boring machine at Empa and regularly demonstrates its progress to industry at international competitions and events.