Bangladesh’s “Bored Tunnelers”: The first South Asian team to qualify for Elon Musk’s Not-a-Boring Competition

March 7, 2024

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“It all started on a fine morning in February 2023, when my school friend Mahim and I saw the announcement for the fourth cohort of the ‘Not-a-Boring Competition’ and decided to take a chance,” recalls Shaekh Mohammad Shithil, the team leader of Bored Tunnelers. “From just two members to a team of twenty, we evolved into a cross-institutional team comprising students from eight esteemed engineering schools including Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Rajshahi University of Engineering & Technology (RUET), Military Institute of Science and Technology (MIST), Shahjalal University of Science & Technology (SUST), BRAC University, Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), and so on,” he adds.

The competition, hosted annually by Elon Musk’s “The Boring Company”, challenges inquisitive minds to devise innovative tunnelling solutions. Musk cleverly coined the term “boring” to refer to tunnel digging, infusing a playful twist into what might otherwise be viewed as a purely technical challenge.

Every year around 400 teams across the globe send their microtunnel boring machine (MTBM) designs and among them, only 10 to 12 teams survive the battle to the finals. The Bangladeshi team Bored Tunnelers, this year, has emerged as the first ever South Asian team to be among those top teams in the finals.

The team co-lead, Shahriar Iqbal Mahim explains the nitty-gritty of the team, “We have divided responsibilities among the students from various engineering domains and formed sub-teams dealing with software, mechanical, electrical, muck-removal, control and navigation, public relations and outreach, manufacturing, etc.”

“Our 500 mm diameter ‘cutter head’ cuts deep into the layers of the earth while a 45-inch metal body is set in motion to make slurry via the slurry pump,” Mahim adds. “Besides, we have a hydraulic system that pushes the machine forward and the area that has been excavated is automatically filled up by the automatic navigation system attached to the TBM. The navigation system has been automated in compliance with IR 4.0 consisting of advanced sensors, computer vision, and so on. The technical documentation of the team was sent by May 2023 with the TBM design after an extensive research and development process. We got the green signal in August. Then the stimulation and testing reports were submitted in December followed by the visa invitation to test our rig in the field. Our TBM technology is directly aligned with the active civil engineering domain of our country.”

Fahin Uddin Enam, the team’s tech lead, emphasises that when WASA conducts digging for water lines, it leads to surface disruption, traffic congestion, and compromised drainage systems. Micro tunnelling technology offers a solution by avoiding haphazard surface digging. The MTBM is set underground through a long station. After boring a tunnel of around 30-40 metres, the MTBM can be lifted from the receiver station. Additionally, the civil infrastructure sector in Bangladesh heavily relies on manual labour, putting 78 percent of the 60 million people involved at risk of casualties due to inadequate safety measures. Bored Tunnelers aims to contribute to a smarter Bangladesh by implementing automated TBM facilities to improve safety, speed, and cost-effectiveness in tunnelling processes. This technology also holds promise for other applications such as underground cable systems, tunnels, and subways. The team manufactures the majority of machine parts at the Bangladesh Industrial Technical Assistance Center (BITAC) in Tejgaon, Dhaka.

The team extends their heartfelt gratitude to Gigabyte Aorus for joining them on this journey as their tech partner. They also extend their gratitude to their advisors and mentors Salman Promon, Graduate Teaching and Research Fellow, University of Houston, USA, Md Mamunur Rashid, Executive Engineer, BITAC, and Md Ashrafuzzaman, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Public Administration.

Bored Tunnelers has reached up to this point on personal finance which is almost running out. Still, they strongly believe in revolutionising the civil engineering sector in Bangladesh as they prepare for the upcoming finals from March 24 in Bastrop, Texas this year.

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