NMC : UNM Students Create Rockslide Danger Detecting Robot

‘Brutus’, a robot created by UNM students, can identify areas of damaged and unstable rocks. Image courtesy of Dr. Fernando Moreu


Students at the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) Smart Management of Infrastructure Laboratory (SMILab) have created a remote-controlled robot that can safely inspect rockslide sites and detect potential future rockslide danger.

SMILab, which is the direction of Dr. Fernando Moreu, is housed in the UNM’s Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) building. Moreu and Dr. John Stormont, in the UNM Department of Civil Engineering, administered this project and advised the students.

The robot, named “Brutus,” identifies areas of damaged and unstable rocks. This automated system has been created to decrease the risk and safety hazards for inspectors. PhD graduate Roya Nasimi, states that, “With Brutus, the inspectors can remotely collect their data and their results without approaching the structure they are inspecting.”

Nasimi began working on this project in October 2020 as a PhD candidate at UNM. She created a software algorithm that can classify different types of materials and the sounds they create. She tested rock samples to discover the different sounds each material makes when the rocks are intact versus when they have cracks and are unstable.

Teammates U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Joshua Murillo, graduate Research Assistant Jack Hanson, and Mechanical Engineering students Dominic Thompson and Solomon Atcitty are other UNM students who worked on this project. They developed Brutus and its controls and also created the mechanized tapping system that Brutus uses.

This danger detecting robot has already been successfully deployed in several field tests. One test was a roadside area in Tijeras, NM that often gets rockslides. Brutus was able to classify or distinguish between the different regions on the roadside. Brutus was also used to inspect a site near White Rock, NM. When doing these tests, the team works closely with the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT).

The goal of this project is to prevent rockslide situations before they happen. Brutus and its successors can be used as a tool to improve safety conditions for roadside inspectors. The researchers are looking at future work to make Brutus waterproof for aquatic areas as well as create a climbing version of the robot.

Support for this project came from various sources, including the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) University Transportation Center Tran-SET at Louisiana State University. Additional support for this project came from an ongoing cybersecurity effort for Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) of critical infrastructure funded by the New Mexico Consortium (NMC) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

To learn more about this amazing research, read the entire UNM Center for Advanced Research Computing article by Melanie Furber Fudge at:  Students create remote-controlled robot to detect potential rockslide danger.

KRQE in Albuquerque news coverage on this research can be watched at: https://www.krqe.com/video/researchers-at-unm-create-robot-to-safely-inspect-rockslide-sites/7497814/