News & Events, Tech

A robot dog is now guarding Pompeii’s ancient ruins

The first of its kind.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Apr 29, 2022

It’s finally happened, the strange Twitter robot dogs have gotten their first real job. The ruins of the ancient Italian city of Pompeii are being guarded by these “dogs” from Boston Dynamics. But what exactly are these dogs guarding? How many people are actually attempting to steal from Pompeii?


Most tourists who visit Pompeii weirdly end up stealing something from the ruins—however, they end up regretting it, according to archeologist Dr. Sophie Hay.


“There was a really lovely little exhibition that was put on a couple of years ago by the director of the excavations[…] He would receive a little battered envelope in the post, and it would contain something that somebody had stolen from the site. And then accompanying it would be a letter of someone saying, ‘I feel so guilty that I took this’ or ‘one of my relatives took this in,'” shares Hay, adding that some people even believe that their stolen tokens are cursed.


Dr. Sophie Hay confirms that the robot dog’s presence at the site is actually “sort of Roman,” because dogs ran in the streets of Pompeii.


SPOT, a Boston Dynamics canine robot, is already monitoring archaeological grounds and structures at Pompeii in Italy, according to a press statement issued last month by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.



The agile robot is being used to identify structural and safety issues at Pompeii—an Ancient Roman city encased in volcanic ash following Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 C.E.—such as narrow passages and uneven surfaces, as well as to inspect underground tunnels leading to and from the site dug by thieves to steal (and later sell) ancient relics.


The robot is the latest step in a larger plan to turn Pompeii into a tourist destination, a “Smart Archaeological Park” with “intelligent, sustainable and inclusive management.” The idea for this “integrated technological solution” began in 2013 when UNESCO discovered structural flaws and damage at Pompeii and threatened to delist the site from the World Heritage list unless steps were taken to improve its preservation. Italy stepped up its assault on culture-related crime in 2012, which resulted in a drop in theft on the site. However, tunnels continue to be discovered in the surrounding area.


As remarked in the release, the goal is to “improve both the quality of monitoring of the existing areas, and to further our knowledge of the state of progress of the works in areas undergoing recovery or restoration, and thereby to manage the safety of the site, as well as that of workers.”


Pompeii’s director-general Gabriel Zuchtriegel shared in a statement:


“We wish to test the use of these robots in the underground tunnels that were made by illegal excavators and which we are uncovering in the area around Pompeii, as part of a memorandum of understanding with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata, led by Nunzio Fragliasso.”


This is the first time such technology has been developed for an archaeological site, according to Zuchtriegel, and we hope it’s the start of a whole new system of safeguarding cultural sites.


In other robot-related news, Tesla is developing its own line of humanoid robots, and they look very… weird.


Photo via New York Post