Press Release

NASA develops a drill for the future

By SpaceRef Editor
April 12, 2000
Filed under

Michael Braukus

Headquarters, Washington, DC

(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Nancy Lovato

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA

(Phone: 818/354-0474)

RELEASE: 00-60

It’s an invention that may eventually end up in the hands of
every craftsman and orthopedic surgeon.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA,
together with engineers from Cybersonics, Inc., Erie, PA, have
developed an ultrasonic device that can drill and core very hard
rocks and also has medical applications.

Potential medical uses include extracting pacemaker leads and
the drilling necessary during surgical or diagnostic procedures
involving the human skeletal structure. Future space missions
could include drilling for samples using lightweight landers with
robotic arms and small rovers that roam the surface of an asteroid
or planet.

“The drill is an ultrasonic device that offers exciting new
capabilities for space exploration in future NASA missions,” said
Dr. Yoseph Bar-Cohen, who leads JPL’s Nondestructive Evaluation
and Advanced Actuator Technologies unit. “Besides the immediate
benefits of the technology to NASA, it is paving the way for other
unique ultrasonic mechanisms that are being developed in our
laboratory and elsewhere. Such devices can be made to be small
and lightweight, to consume little power and to exhibit a high
standard of reliability.”

“This technology can be miniaturized to fit in the palm of a
hand,” said Tom Peterson, president of Cybersonics, Inc.
Cybersonics holds a patent for the Ultrasonic/Sonic Drill and
Corer. “There are numerous commercial applications, especially in
the medical field. We are very pleased with the progress in
development and look forward to finding even more useful

The drill is driven by piezoelectric actuators, which have
only two moving parts but no gears or motors. Piezoelectrics are
materials that change their shape under the application of an
electrical field. The drill can be adapted easily to operations
in a range of temperatures from extremely cold to very hot.
Unlike conventional rotary drills, the drill can core even the
hardest rocks, such as granite and basalt, without significant
weight on the drilling bit.

The current demonstration unit weighs roughly 1.5 pounds (0.7
kilograms), which is sufficient to drill half-inch (12-millimeter)
holes in granite using less than 10 watts of power. Comparable
rotary drills usually require the application of 20-to-30 times
greater pushing force and more than three times the power. The
drill/coring bit does not require sharpening and its drilling
speed does not decrease with time. There is no drill chatter, no
drill walk on start-up, and the drill does not rotate. The bit
can be guided by hand safely during operation. The drill can core
holes in different cross-sections, such as square, round, or

Bar-Cohen led the development team, which includes Drs.
Benjamin Dolgin and Stewart Sherrit of JPL and the staff of
Cybersonics, Inc. The technology was initially developed under a
NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract
that funded Cybersonics, Inc., and later received funding from the
NASA TeleRobotic Intercenter Working Group. Currently, the
development is funded by the NASA Exploration Program (Mars and
Deep Space), and the Cybersonics effort is funded by an SBIR Phase
II contract.

Further information about the ultrasonic drill and other
nondestructive evaluation and advanced actuator technologies is
available on the Internet at:

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena.


Editor’s Note: Photographs of the drill are available on the
Internet at:

SpaceRef staff editor.