HARBIN, April 8 (Xinhua) -- A robot specially designed for underground exploration is opening up a lost world of historic treasures for Chinese archaeologists.
Scientists are planning its second excursion next week when it will go into an ancient tomb in Xi'an, China's ancient capital in the northwestern Shaanxi Province.
The robot completed a successful trial probe in July last year, when it revealed hidden fresco paintings in a narrow shaft inside a 1,300-year old tomb in Xi'an.
The cylinder-shaped robot, 27 centimeters long and 9 centimeters in diameter, is the first robot ever used by Chinese archaeologists to explore ancient tombs, said Tie Fude, a researcher at the National Museum of China, the Principle Investigator (PI) of this project.
It was the culmination of a two-year project jointly run by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the National Museum, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and the Harbin Institute of Technology Shenzhen Graduate School, said Tie.
"The project runs the gamut from tomb excavation, culture relics preservation, to intelligent control," said Li Zexiang from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the co-PI of this project.
Equipped with infrared lights and a digital camera, the robot could "see" clearly underground, and with help of a sensor, it could identify gases in the environment, and send back data, including temperature and humidity readings, said the project's chief designer of intelligent control systems, Dr. Zhu Xiaorui, of the Harbin Institute of Technology Shenzhen Graduate School.
"Archaeologists can then plan excavations beforehand on this data," said Li.
He said the challenge was not the robotics technology, but its adaptation to archeology.
"We only need to input the approximate size of the tomb entrance, the gradient, and the categories of the gases there, so the robot can work," said Zhu.
"With the robot, we can get some basic data and thus give out a more tailor-made digging plan," said Tie.
However, more tests were needed, said Tie.
A Chinese archaeologist, Dr. Dong Qi, the vice director of the National Museum of China, said this technique would be a significant contribution to the field of archaeology exploration in China. Chinese archaeologists already use robots widely in underwater explorations.