According to tradition, a wolf laid the foundation for the Roman Empire. More than 2,700 years later, some of the civilization’s last and best-preserved relics still have a canine guardian — but with a very 21st-century twist.
Spot, Boston Dynamics’ four-legged robot “dog,” is here to help. He’s recently started a new job, guarding the Pompeii ruins.
The spot was created in 2015 for search and rescue missions in areas that were too risky or inaccessible for people. He’s also exceptionally firm on his feet, especially on uneven or slippery terrain—a combination of skills that Pompeii officials feel makes the dog ideal for this new job.
Today, thanks to the collaboration with high-tech companies and in the wake of successful experiments,” said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, Director General of Pompeii Archaeological Park, “we wish to test the use of these robots in the underground tunnels that were made by illegal excavators and that we are uncovering in the area around Pompeii.”
“The safety circumstances within the tunnels excavated by tomb robbers are sometimes highly perilous, as a result of which the deployment of a robot might represent a breakthrough that would allow us to go at a faster pace while being completely secure.”
The spot isn’t the only high-tech instrument making its premiere at the old archeological site: park experts have previously been testing with the Leica BLK2FLY, a flying laser scanner capable of doing autonomous 3D scans, according to a press statement issued on Monday. Spot has his own autonomous laser scanner and a color camera with a 360-degree field of vision, but he can also be linked to the BLK2FLY to monitor the site as a group.
Spot and BLK2FLY are two of the very first instances of autonomous robots utilized at archeological sites. There are good reasons for this: “technological advances in the world of robotics… have produced solutions and innovations typically associated with the industrial and manufacturing world,” according to Zuchtriegel, “until now [they] had not found an application within archaeological sites due to the heterogeneity of environmental conditions, and the size of the site.”
Spot definitely has his job cut out for him, with his new home encompassing 66-hectares (163-acres) of old and unstable ruins. But his appointment couldn’t come at a better time: while Pompeii remained intact for over two millennia after Mount Vesuvius’ explosion, in recent years the site has begun to succumb to an even deadlier foe than volcanoes: humanity.
Pompeii was declared a state of emergency by the Italian government in 2008 due to tourism demands, climate change, and plain old-fashioned tombaroli – the local term for tomb robbers. The deteriorating status of the monument was brought to light again in 2010 when the House of the Gladiators collapsed, with opponents claiming that preservation efforts had been poorly managed. By 2013, the situation had deteriorated to the point where Unesco threatened to put Pompeii to a list of endangered world heritage sites unless Italian authorities took action.
But, with Spot and his flying companion BLK2FLY, Pompeii officials aim to find a cutting-edge way to preserve and maintain this historic city.
“The goal of using innovative technological solutions is precisely to improve both the quality of monitoring of existing areas, and to further our knowledge of the state of progress of the works in those areas undergoing recovery or restoration, and thus to manage the safety of the site, as well as that of workers,” park officials said.
“[The project] seeks an intelligent, sustainable, and inclusive administration of the park via the application of an integrated technology solution, transforming Pompeii into a Smart Archaeological Park.”