Despite the rapid adoption of robotics and machine learning in industry, their application to scientific studies remains under-explored. Combining industry-driven advances with scientific exploration provides new perspectives and a greater understanding of the planet and its environmental processes. Focusing on rock detection, mapping, and dynamics analysis, I present technical approaches and scientific results of developing robotics and machine learning technologies for geomorphology and seismic hazard analysis. I demonstrate an interdisciplinary research direction to push the frontiers of both robotics and geosciences, with potential translational contributions to commercial applications for hazard monitoring and prospecting. To understand the effects of rocky fault scarp development on rock trait distributions, I present a data-processing pipeline that utilizes unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs) and deep learning to segment densely distributed rocks in several orders of magnitude. Quantification and correlation analysis of rock trait distributions demonstrate a statistical approach for geomorphology studies. Fragile geological features such as precariously balanced rocks (PBRs) provide upper-bound ground motion constraints for hazard analysis. I develop an offboard method and onboard method as complementary to each other for PBR searching and mapping. Using deep learning, the offboard method segments PBRs in point clouds reconstructed from UAV surveys. The onboard method equips a UAV with edge-computing devices and stereo cameras, enabling onboard machine learning for real-time PBR search, detection, and mapping during surveillance. The offboard method provides an efficient solution to find PBR candidates in existing point clouds, which is useful for field reconnaissance. The onboard method emphasizes mapping individual PBRs for their complete visible surface features, such as basal contacts with pedestals–critical geometry to analyze fragility. After PBRs are mapped, I investigate PBR dynamics by building a virtual shake robot (VSR) that simulates ground motions to test PBR overturning. The VSR demonstrates that ground motion directions and niches are important factors determining PBR fragility, which were rarely considered in previous studies. The VSR also enables PBR large-displacement studies by tracking a toppled-PBR trajectory, presenting novel methods of rockfall hazard zoning. I build a real mini shake robot providing a reverse method to validate simulation experiments in the VSR.
- Automated Geoscience with Robotics and Machine Learning: A New Hammer of Rock Detection, Mapping, and Dynamics Analysis
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