Spot goes to Pompeii: Why a robot dog is patrolling ancient ruins
Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot has been tasked with a new job - patrolling the ancient ruins of Pompeii. The robot will be used to inspect the site for safety issues and record structural changes over time to better manage the historic ruins.
Ever since Boston Dynamics began developing its dog-like robot over a decade ago it has been one of those innovative solutions in search of a problem. In recent years, as the company commercialized Spot, it has been given a number of jobs, from working on an oil rig to herding sheep in New Zealand.
Spot’s latest job takes it to Italy and the ancient site of Pompeii, a Roman city famous for being struck by catastrophic volcanic eruption around 2,000 years ago. Part of Spot’s work will be to autonomously roam the site with a 3D scanner tracking any small changes to structures that could signal a need for intervention.
The novel application for the robot comes from of Gabriel Zuchtriegel, new director of the Pompeii Archaeological Site. Zuchtriegel, a young archeologist who was controversially appointed to the position of director last year. His innovative use of technology in the ancient site signals a change in how Pompeii will be managed moving forward.
“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 had not found an application within archaeological sites due to the heterogeneity of environmental conditions, and the size of the site,” Zuchtriegel said in a statement announcing Spot’s deployment.
According to Zuchtriegel, one specific focus for Spot will be to investigate the safety of a number of tunnels used by thieves to raid Pompeii. For decades, tomb raiders have used these tunnels to plunder the ancient site. Zuchtriegel says the robot will hopefully be small and agile enough to scan these tunnels and monitor their structural integrity.
“Often the safety conditions within the tunnels dug by grave robbers are extremely precarious, as a consequence of which the use of a robot could signify a breakthrough that would allow us to proceed with greater speed and in total safety,” said Zuchtriegel.
Spot will also work with the Leica BLK2FLY, an autonomous 3D scanning drone. The two devices will work in tandem and monitor the site for any damage caused by visitors or small deteriorations in the ruins that could signal the need for restoration.