A four-legged robot “dog” named Spot has been stationed in Pompeii to collect data on structural and safety issues in the ancient ruins.
The robot can navigate difficult terrains autonomously and is “capable of inspecting even the smallest of spaces in complete safety, gathering and recording data useful for the study and planning of interventions,” per a statement from the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
Spot will also inspect tunnels dug by tomb raiders. Looters have been plundering Italian cultural sites for decades, according to the Guardian’s Angela Giuffrida, though they’ve been less successful in Pompeii since 2012, when the Italian art police ramped up their efforts to stop trafficking of ancient artifacts.
“Often the safety conditions within the tunnels dug by grave robbers are extremely precarious, and so the use of a robot could signify a breakthrough that would allow us to proceed with greater speed and in total safety,” Pompeii's director general, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, says in the statement.
The ancient city of Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 C.E. after Mount Vesuvius erupted, is visited by millions of people annually. In recent years, archeologists, historians and residents have complained of poor management and upkeep of the historic site, per Reuters’ Silvia Aloisi.
In 2008, the Italian government declared a “state of emergency” at Pompeii. A few years later, a series of structures, including the House of Gladiators, collapsed. UNESCO “threatened to add Pompeii to a list of world heritage sites in peril unless Italian authorities improved its preservation,” per the Guardian.
But recently, the site has experienced the “makings of a rebirth,” writes Frances D’Emilio for the Associated Press.
Zuchtriegel, who was appointed last year, said in 2021 that he planned to use new technologies for preventative conservation, including drones, sensors and satellites, writes Graziella Melania Geraci for the Art Newspaper.
Spot was made by Boston Dynamics, a company that engineers robots such as Atlas, a humanoid robot capable of navigating a parkour course. The dog-like robot can reach speeds up to three mph, has 360-degree vision that helps it avoid obstacles and is protected from dust and rain, per the company.
A flying laser scanner that can autonomously conduct 3-D scans of the ruins will aid Spot in Pompeii. The data collected will not only allow scientists to study areas that risk further collapse if humans access them, but it opens up research to archaeologists across the world who can offer insights remotely, writes Andrew Liszewski for Gizmodo.