Building subsurface infrastructure has long been a dirty and dangerous job. Specialized miners (known as sandhogs in New York) work alongside massive tunnel boring machines to build spaces deep underground for transportation or utilities. With diameters reaching 17.5 meters, tunnel boring machines (TBMs) slowly grind their way through a host of geologic formations ranging from hard rock to loosen soil and sands. They are high-tech mechanical machines, and, as in other industries, sensors and operational systems relay large amounts of real-time data to operators who adjust the drive accordingly.
TBMs are indispensable, but labor can prove to be a bottleneck. The work is so specialized that miners travel the world from job to job. With the tunneling market growing globally, competition for skilled operators is great. Unlike other industries, while some tasks may be automated, advancing the TBM is not. That is an anomaly when automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are the tools transforming industry.