The robotic dog will be on patrol in Pompeii

The robotic dog will be on patrol in Pompeii

The nearby volcano blackened the sky and engulfed the city in clouds of ash; Centuries later, robot dogs now roam the ruins, protecting the city’s dead from the ravages of time.

It is not the plot of a movie. This is what is actually happening to the 2,000-year-old Roman ruins of Pompeii in southern Italy. Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot will help archaeologists and conservation teams patrol the 66-hectare site for signs of erosion, damage and looting.

Spot is a four-legged walking robot capable of traversing uneven terrain carrying small payloads such as cameras and sensors. Like a flying drone, the dog-like robot can follow a programmed path, or operators can guide it via remote control. Viral videos showed Spot performing stunts and even using his front foot to hold a door open for a friend.

The robot’s almost, but not quite realistic, way of moving (welcome to Uncanny Valley) unnerves some observers (and makes others, including your loyal correspondent, wish it had a good snoot to whistle), while its potential for the army and surveillance he uses unnerve probably more. Spot is the successor to a larger and heavier four-legged robot called BigDog, designed by Boston Dynamics to carry equipment alongside infantry in the field. This isn’t the kind of role that would put a robot in direct conflict with people, of course, but it does provide another aspect to our ongoing social debate about the role of robots and drones in surveillance and warfare.

Boston Dynamics made Spot available for rent to select “partners” in 2019 and for commercial purchase in 2020, and at least 100 yellow robot dogs have taken on all sorts of jobs that are likely unrelated to the upcoming machine riot. such as the inspection of the containment for liquid nitrogen rocket fuel at the SpaceX launch site in Boca Raton, Florida. Some of them have also acted in various art installations.

The size and agility of the light and agile 25-kilogram robot make it the perfect watchdog for an archaeological site like Pompeii, according to Pompeii site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Just like real dogs trained to work in disaster areas, Spot can easily maneuver over uneven rocks and rubble, glide along narrow passages between ancient walls and mounds of volcanic debris, or crawl through crumbling underground tunnels. But unlike a real dog, Spot can map precise details of the terrain it traverses and the condition of surrounding walls and other structures. Pompeii park officials say they will use the data to identify problems and plan strategies to preserve the site.

Spot will patrol areas that have been restored and are open to the public, but the robot dog will also help monitor progress in areas where recovery and restoration is still underway, such as a merchant’s grave previously unearthed. Last year.

Pompeii park officials also plan to test the robot dog’s abilities in finding and exploring the tunnels dug by looters, who still occasionally sneak into the site in search of artifacts to sell on the illegal art and antiques market. Looting in Pompeii dropped dramatically in 2012, reports The Guardian, thanks to a crackdown by Italian law enforcement on art trafficking, but occasionally tunnels of new looters still appear at the site. And they can be dangerous for human workers to investigate.

“The security conditions inside the tunnels dug by grave robbers are often extremely precarious,” said Zuchtriegel. “The use of a robot could mean a turning point that would allow us to proceed faster and in total safety”.

Keeping humans safe from potential hazards has long been a major selling point for drones and other robots, which is why early adopters of Spots included the Massachusetts State Police, which has at least one of the robot-dogs on his bomb squad. Despite that experience, there was no mention of sending Spot to search for the dozen unexploded WWII bombs that still cover an undiscovered 22-hectare area of ​​the ancient city.

Spot will not patrol the ruined city alone. His partner in this mission is a drone equipped with a laser scanner, which will fly its patrols over the site, scanning the terrain below with lasers to map the ruins and surrounding terrain.

By a delightful coincidence, the people who once lived in Pompeii might have recognized Spot’s name. The formidable three-headed guardian at the gates of the Roman underworld was called Cerberus, whose Greek name may derive from a much older Proto-Indo-European word for “spotted”.

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