Cutting-edge technology is being utilized in one of the world’s great ancient ruins. A canine robot named Spot, built by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff engineering and robotics company Boston Dynamics, has been deployed to patrol the weathered terra-cotta and cement streets of Pompeii as part of a push to introduce innovation at the Italian site.
The broader project, dubbed Smart@POMPEI, is to make the site a “Smart Archaeological Park,” with “intelligent, sustainable, and inclusive management.” Spot is just one of a series of new technologies that park authorities have enlisted to help monitor the structural and safety issues that have long plagued the Roman ruin, which was buried under volcanic ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. In 2013, UNESCO found vast structural deficiencies at the site, and threatened to remove it from the World Heritage List if officials didn’t take action.
Enter the four-legged robot.
Spot is agile enough to inspect narrow passages and traverse uneven surfaces, and will collect terrain data alongside a laser-scanning drone released to fly over the site and conduct autonomous 3D scans. The robot will also be used to sniff out underground tunnels made by tomb raiders, or tombaroli, that have allowed access to thieves looking for ancient relics to sell to traffickers.
Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, noted that while advances in robotics and A.I. have aided companies in the industrial and manufacturing arenas, until now they had not “found an application within archaeological sites, due to the heterogeneity of environmental conditions and the size of the site.”
This isn’t Spot’s first foray into the world of art and archaeology—in January, Agnieszka Pilat, the artist in residence at Boston Dynamics, made Spot the subject of her series “Renaissance 2.0,” which reimagines historical paintings like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, replacing man with machine. In 2021, the cheeky New York-based art collective MSCHF enlisted Spot as a robotic artist controlled by gallery visitors, who could temporarily manipulate a paintball gun strapped to the dog-bot to make paintings on the white walls (an activity that was not sanctioned by Boston Dynamics).
Sul sito in questione una interessantissima galleria fotografica (vedi in alto)