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"Beyond a thousand years from now humans are not quite recognizably human, and I have trouble finding characters."
- Larry Niven

Digger Worm  
  A robot shaped like a fat snake, or worm; used for mining.  

A small planet named Botea has IIIB diamonds, selectively conductive crystals that are used to make kilolayered computer chips. Handily, they are not far below the surface, buried in nice soft coal deposits. What sort of machine do you send down below the surface?

"I think this is the worm." He knelt down and began clearing the chunks of yellow coal away. Under it was the smooth gray of the worm's grinding head...

"Where are the exploders?" she said.

"Inside the mouth. We won't be able to get at them, but the controls should be right here, at the back of its head." He swept away more rubble to reveal a beveled rectangle and flipped up the control plate. "When a worm's digging a new trail, it spits out an exploder, backs up to a safe distance, and detonates it..."

The worm gave a low growl and shudder and reared its gray metal head clear of the coal rubble...

From With Friends Like These, by Connie Willis.
Published by Tor in 1985
Additional resources -

This item appears in one of the short stories in Berserker's Base, by Fred Saberhagen.

Thanks to Tim Morrison for suggesting this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from With Friends Like These
  More Ideas and Technology by Connie Willis
  Tech news articles related to With Friends Like These
  Tech news articles related to works by Connie Willis

Digger Worm-related news articles:
  - Snake Robot Roundup: Part Two
  - Robotic Fire Hose Anna Konda
  - Pipeline Explorer Untethered Robotic Snake

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