Pompeii hires a robot dog to inspect the streets of the ancient city

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It doesn’t do tricks or play fetch, but this robot dog can safely inspect even the smallest spaces and even collect and record data to study. Meet Spot – a quadruped robot currently used in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii to collect data on structural and safety issues in ancient ruins. Oh, and he’s also able to go underground to inspect tunnels dug by thieves.

Image credit: Boston Dynamics.

The city of Pompeii, located in Naples, Italy, was destroyed in 79 CE after the eruption of a nearby volcano, Vesuvius. The volcano’s eruption blanketed the city in at least six meters of ash and other volcanic debris, burying the city for centuries before its ruins were rediscovered in the late 16th century, prompting a massive excavation and uncovering Pompeii as one of the most important archaeological sites. in history.

The archaeological site of Pompeii is unique because it offers a unique insight into the economic, social, political and religious life of the ancient Roman world. It is also visited by millions of people every year, which brings in a lot of money for research but can also damage the site. In fact, in 2008 the Italian government declared a state of emergency on the site, hoping to better preserve the ruins.

For years, archaeologists, residents and historians have complained about the lack of maintenance and management of the site. Things were so bad that in November 2010 the Schola Armaturarum, a large building once used in Pompeii by gladiators for training, collapsed due to water seepage. A few weeks later, a wall protecting a structure also collapsed due to heavy rain.

Today, officials at the Pompeii Archaeological Park want to integrate new preventive conservation technologies, including drones, sensors, satellites and the Spot robot. This would improve the quality of monitoring of existing areas and better manage recovery or restoration plans for ruins at relatively low cost, they argue.

Add technology to Pompeii

Meet spot, the dog-like robot that patrols Pompeii. Image credits: Pompeii Archaeological Park.

Spot, the robot currently used in Pompeii, was designed by Boston Dynamic, a company that has built robots such as Atlas, a humanoid robot capable of navigating a parkour course. Spot has 360-degree vision that helps it avoid obstacles, is protected from dust and rain, and can reach speeds of up to three mph, according to the company.

“Technological advances in the world of robotics, in the form of artificial intelligence and so-called autonomous systems, have produced solutions and innovations typically associated with the industrial and manufacturing world, but which until now have not had found application in archaeological sites,” Pompeii director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel said in a statement.

The robot works side-by-side with a flying laser scanner that can autonomously perform 3D scans of the ruins. The data collected will allow researchers to study areas that could collapse if humans accessed them. Until the introduction of Spot, no such technology had been developed for archaeological sites, authorities in Pompeii claimed.

Spot will also be used in underground tunnels dug by grave robbers, who have made their fortunes digging into the ruins and stealing precious relics to resell them to art dealers. However, the thieves have had less success since 2012, when the local art police stepped up their efforts and were able to catch the criminals on the spot.

“Often the security conditions in the tunnels dug by grave robbers are extremely precarious, so the use of a robot could mean a breakthrough that would allow us to proceed with greater speed and safety” , Zuchtriegel said in a statement. .

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