Space & Innovation

Seabed-Mining Robots Will Dig for Gold on Ocean Floor

There could soon be a swarm of deep-sea mining robots snatching up deposits of copper, gold and silver. Continue reading →

If Toronto-based mining company Nautilus Minerals has it their way, there could soon be a swarm of deep-sea mining robots lurking around on the ocean floor of the Bismarck Sea, near Papua New Guinea, to snatch up deposits of copper, gold and silver.

These mining robots, which are tractor-trailer-size excavators, could help unlock a subsea gold rush.

Oceans' Tiniest Bubbles Detected

To support the robots, Nautilus is in the process of building a production vessel that will deploy the subsea robots and process the ore they collect. The ship is scheduled to depart for Papua New Guinea in early 2018.

The mining robots differ in characteristics and have been designed to work as a team: "One uses 4-meter-wide counterrotating heads studded with tungsten carbide picks to chew through the metal-rich chimneys that form around superhot water spewing from sulfurous vents in the seafloor," according to IEEE Spectrum. "Its partner adds brute strength, using a studded drum that is 2.5 meters in diameter and 4 meters wide to pulverize rock walls."

A third robot will also join in, to "feed a slurry of crushed rock and water up a pipe dangling from the production vessel."

Earthquakes Turn Water Into Gold

However, before these robots can get to work on the ocean floor, there are certainly some roadblocks for Nautilus to overcome. The most important: The company is still negotiating access to a shallow-water site for a subsea test.

If all goes as planned, the robots - following their initial test - will be deployed for 30 months to recover ore containing metals expected to be worth more than $1.5 billion.

via IEEE Spectrum

We humans are an engineering species by nature -- in the modern age, at least. After so many millennia of being forced to go around obstacles -- or go home -- we now prefer to go over them, below them or through them. Bridges and tunnels come in all shapes, sizes and obscure categories. For instance, Canada's Hartland Bridge, pictured here, is the world's longest covered bridge at 1,282 feet. We look at some other record holders from around the planet.

Generally considered the world's longest bridge of any type -- the

number crunchers

at Guinness say so, anyway -- the Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge in China is more than 102 miles long. It's technically a viaduct, or a series of spans supported by arches over low ground and various bodies of water.

At 15.23 miles in length, the Laerdal Tunnel in Norway is the world's longest road tunnel. The Laerdal runs straight through a mountain range and required the removal of more than 2 million cubic meters of solid rock. To reduce driver fatigue, the tunnel employs different lighting schemes along its length and features three giant mountain caves where motorists can pull over and take a break.

Completed in 1998, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan is the longest suspension bridge in the world. At 12,828 feet, it's the length of four Brooklyn Bridges laid end to end. The bridge uses mechanical counterweights called "tuned mass dampers" to compensate for sway -- when the wind blows one way, the counterweights swing opposite.

Now in the final stages of completion, the Gotthard Base Tunnel (GBT) runs more than 35 miles beneath the Alps in Switzerland. When it officially opens in 2016, it will be the world's longest railway tunnel. The project used four gigantic tunnel boring machines -- two drilling from each end -- named Sissi, Heidi, Gabi I and Gabi II.

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana is officially classified by Guinness World Records as the longest continuous bridge over open water. The bridge spans more than 24 miles of Lake Pontchartrain -- seen here in aerial image -- supported by 9,500 concrete pilings.

Arguably the planet's most famous tunnel, the Channel Tunnel (or Chunnel) connecting the U.K. and France incorporates the longest stretch of undersea tunnel in the world. The Chunnel runs for more than 23 miles beneath the English Channel. Completed in 1994, the Chunnel used 11 different tunnel boring machines, whose combined weight exceeded that of the Eiffel Tower.

With its original construction dating back to the 12th century, the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany, is the world's longest and oldest inhabited bridge. (Well, there's

some debate

on that, actually.) The half-timbered buildings on each side of the bridge were originally built as vendor stands. Today, 32 different structures still remain, housing various homes, businesses and artisan shops.

The labyrinth of tunnels, mines, quarries and passages that sprawl beneath the city of Paris holds no official world record, although the section called the Catacombs of Paris is known unofficially as "The World's Largest Grave." It's estimated that the historical ossuaries beneath the city hold the bones of more than six million people.

The Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia boasts the world's longest canopy walkway bridge, the better to inspect top layer vegetation of the 130-million-year-old rain forest. The walkway consists of 10 different bridge sections totaling 510 meters at an average height of 45 meters.