MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Nancy Lovato, 818-354-0474
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 12, 2000
NASA DEVELOPS A DRILL FOR THE FUTURE
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,
Calif., together with engineers from Cybersonics, Inc., Erie,
Penn., have developed a small, lightweight ultrasonic device that
can drill and core very hard rocks and also has possible medical
Potential medical uses include extracting pacemaker leads,
and the drilling necessary during surgical or diagnostic
procedures involving the human skeletal structure. Future space
missions that might use this new technology 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."
(Images of the drill may be seen at
"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 0.7 kilograms
(1.5 pounds), which is sufficient to drill 12-millimeter (half-
inch) 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 hexagon.
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 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 a NASA Small
Business Innovation Research Phase II contract.
Further information about the ultrasonic drill and other
nondestructive evaluation and advanced actuator technologies is
available on the Internet at http://ndeaa.jpl.nasa.gov .
JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena.