Saturday, April 08, 2006

Robotic Probe of the Great Pyramid of Egypt

The Great Pyramid of Egypt has always fascinated people because of its ancient mysteries and secrets, which only a few have been discovered. One of the Pyramids, named Khufu Pyramid, is particularly fascinating due to its highly complex interior, which contains countless secret chambers that researchers have yet to discover. In 2003, National Geographic, using the same kind of robot used to search for survivors in the ruins of the World Trade Center, tried to solve a mystery that lies deep in the bowels of the 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid of Giza. Inside the Khufu Pyramid lies one main chamber called the Queen’s Chamber, in which a tiny square tunnel leading to a stone hatch with copper handles was discovered in 1872. No one knows the purpose of the shaft, and no one knows what lies behind the hatch. In addition to that, many air shafts inside the chamber have been discovered but the functions of these shafts were not clear. The square shaft begins with a "tank trap" or initial dip and appears to end 16.5 meters (54 feet) short of the outer side of the pyramid's surface at the miniature door (shown by the figure below). The door itself is only 8 cm (3.25 inches) thick and seals the end of the narrow shaft. National Geographic designed a robot called “Pyramid Rover” to go up the shaft and find out what lies behind the copper handles at the end of the tunnel. The total length of the shaft is 208 feet or approximately 61 meter and is inclined at 40 degree angle. The Technology behind Pyramid Rover The Pyramid Rover, whose prototype was designed by a German scientist Rudolf Gantenbrink, is equipped with a laser guidance system and a SONY CCD miniature video with pan and tilt capabilities. The structural parts are made of aircraft aluminum and seven independent electric motors with precision gears drive up the upper and lower wheel, providing leverage thrust of 20 kg and pulling power of 40 kg under ideal traction conditions. The CCD video is connected to the monitoring circuit outside the tunnel. Since no one has explored the square tunnel before, obstacles such as boulders and unanticipated traps were expected. Therefore, Pyramid Rover is built based on information-based criterion to determine the “path strategy” of a robot. The criterion determines the next best path for a robot taking into account the distance traveled to reach a position, obstacle avoidance strategy, and pre-programmed algorithm about the terrain (in this case the square tunnel). If Pyramid Rover finds something it cannot cope with, its computers carry algorithms which should make it stop and check back for instructions.

Pyramid Rover being deployed (left) and inside the square tunnel (right)

The Discovery

The Pyramid Rover, equipped with a special drill, cut a small hole in the closed door, but found nothing on the other side except what appeared to be another door or wall just a few feet behind the first. There was no object, no statue, and no ancient parchment to be found. Where many enthusiasts were hoping to discover a secret chamber with parchments or engraved texts — not even an "empty chamber" or an ongoing shaft was seen. For roboticist, this was not bad news at the slightest. Rick Allen, with National Geographic, said the Pyramid Rover fits all the necessary requirements for scaling the tiny crevices. "It has to be an extraordinary engineering feat to go up a 40-degree, 200-foot shaft," he said. "It also has to carry an extraordinary amount of scientific equipment in the lightest possible vehicle in a design that allows it to fit in the shaft and to keep it from slipping down."

Robot explorers have indeed been playing very important role in other archeological expeditions, helping archeologists unearth ‘lost’ civilizations and solve the underlying ancient mysteries buried underground. So popular the participation of robots in these projects, scientists have come up with a branch of engineering specializing in this area, called “Ancient Engineering”. Who knows what robots may discover next time...


Medical said...
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Medical said...

u0204610 Andy Tan

This is an interesting application of robotics in assisting in human activities. Though no major discovery was made during this expedition, it had demonstrated that robots can be a valuable asset to mankind.

Anonymous said...

U0204997 Yeo Yunn En

I think it is very interesting how modern humans took 131 years before managing to find a solution to discover the insides of a pyramid when it was built by people from more than a thousand years ago.

The engineering and architectural work of the pyramids is unfathomable as to how such fascinating work could be achieved without the use of modern machinery.

i think it is indeed very benefical for robots to explore areas where humans cannot, either it is because it is too dangerous, or just impossible. as such we can make use of such robots to understand more of not only the history of mankind, but also our Earth by exploring maybe the deep undersea, etc.

Exploration said...

u0204999 Sim Xin'An Eddie
Wow, amazing stuff. I think with such technology perhaps archaelogy discoveries need not be Indiana Jones-style where the explorers have to brave dangers and traps aplenty. I think for a robot to be able to scale the shaft without falling is really good. Perhaps the ultimate test would be for it to scale a vertical shaft. Nonetheless, this robot is a good alternative to what humans would probably do to explore the shaft. I can imagine them drilling and excavating just to make the hole bigger for humans to explore. Really good invention. I believe it could be used in other more urbanised and practical areas too. Like climbing narrow ventilation shafts and pipes to check for functionality.