This Drone Would Swim Through Lava—if Someone Could Build It
Which part of earth haven’t we explored yet? One hint: It’s by far one of the biggest places on the planet. It is, of course, the earth’s mantle, sitting just beneath a relatively thin crust of rocks.
To develop a vehicle capable of clawing into the heart of our planet, start by designing and testing such a vehicle in lakes of lava near volcanoes. That’s what the Vulcan concept is about.
Lava can range in temperature from 1,500 to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, so the Vulcan would need an outer shell made from ultra-high-temperature ceramics capable of withstanding temperatures in excess of 3,600 degrees. You’d insulate the vehicle’s interior from all that heat, but would still need a cooling system.
I doubt current technology’s up to the task, but eventually someone could design a heat transfer system to cool the interior to temperatures at which rugged electronic equipment can function. Maybe you could make one good enough to allow a human to go aboard for a short period of time… if someone ever dares to take up that challenge.
After a temporary crane or hoist lowers the vehicle into the lava, there’s the question of propulsion—tricky when you’re talking about a moving through a liquid that can be 1,000 times more viscous than water. I was thinking about sound waves or shockwaves that could push the vehicle by using a concave shape (take a look at the rear side of the Vulcan), but there are probably better ways to address this issue. If you have good ideas, please share them!
Once it’s down under, the Vulcan could use pincers (made from heat-resistant super alloys) to position test samples or equipment. Its shell could split open to reveal a protected inner area, or maybe a side door could be designed, although that could compromise the integrity of the outer protective area.
So, there’s plenty left to figure out. But if you have read Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, you have probably spent some time wondering if traveling into the earth’s mantle could someday be possible. Surely science would benefit.
Humans are explorers, and the Vulcan is a vehicle envisioned to cross one boundary we haven’t punched through yet. Maybe one day it will be possible.
Special thanks to Olivier Peraldi, a regular Imaginactive collaborator who helped me work on the Vulcan. Abhishek Roy, the founder of Lunatic Koncepts, a start-up design lab based in India, created the images of the concept. Abhishek’s team also created the renderings of the Antipode supersonic jet and the Subfire patrol drone.
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