Robot volcanology

Earlier this week, we talked about Raspberry Pi robots under the sofa. Today, we’ve got a Raspberry Pi robot under a volcano to show you.


Dr Carolyn Parcheta studied volcanology in Hawaii, and now works as a NASA postdoctoral fellow in Pasadena. Her particular area of study is the geometry of volcanic fissure vents: something that’s very hard to map, because they’re inaccessibly narrow, coated with sharp glass from eruptions, and are often destroyed when magma flows through them.

Learning about that geometry is crucial in building an understanding of how eruptions work: how magma flows, and how gas escapes. So with the help of a Raspberry Pi, Dr Parcheta has built a wall-climbing robot to go where humans can’t, and is using it to model cracks and vents in much more detail than has been possible before.

She made this video about the project for a National Geographic award last month, where she placed in the finals.

Dr Parcheta’s eventual goal is to 3d-map all of the fissures in Kilauea, an active volcano on Hawaii. There are 54 in all, and she completed maps of two in May this year. We’ll be keeping an eye on her progress – and on the progress of that brave little robot!


Tom Willis avatar

“Robot volcanology”…. was anything needed beyond the headline? Great stuff! :-)

Liz Upton avatar

When I found the original video yesterday, there was much standing around my desk and roaring “I BLOODY LOVE VOLCANOES” from the team. We love robots too. It’s a happy coming together.

AndrewS avatar

I remember being pretty gobsmacked when I stumbled across this video about 6 months ago :-)

Liz Upton avatar

Jeri Elsworth AND volcanoes? My day is complete. :D

ColinD avatar


That’s SO cool.
(worthy of all caps and gratuitous use of exclamation marks)

And the robot’s neat too.

Guido Stepken avatar

I’m melting away upon such great news! ;-)

AndrewS avatar

Are there any technical details available about how the robot actually does the 3D scanning?

Liz Upton avatar

I think there’s a modified Kinect in there somewhere – wasn’t able to find any more details than that, though.

Crystal Cowboy avatar

Volcanology vs. Vulcanology – explore the controversy.

Liz Upton avatar

Have to admit, it did give me pause! Being from the UK, I say “vulcanology”; but Dr Parcheta calls herself a “volcanologist”, so that’s what she is for the purposes of this post.

Orange_ avatar

Vulcanology? Like Mr. Spock from Star Trek? (He is a “Vulcan”)

gregor avatar

“The robotics team consists of one California Institute of Technology undergraduate and three NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) employees.” – seems like credits for the robot build should go elsewhere…

Hudson avatar

What an incredible project and a useful little robot. I can’t wait to see the progress on this in the future – such a smart way to explore fissures.

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