Robot explores Great Pyramid

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A robot built by the University of Leeds has successfully navigated a narrow shaft inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, in an attempt to solve one of the big mysteries in Egyptian archaeology.

Featured in 45-minute documentary film, The Robot, The Dentist and The Pyramid, a group of research engineers involving the University of Leeds accepted a challenge to build a robot capable of exploring the pyramid.

The lightweight robot had to travel along a shaft that is 20 x 20cm, a smaller cross section than a sheet of A4 paper, and manoeuvre along its 60m length.

The challenge was to survey and film what was inside while not causing any damage.

The lightweight robot had to travel along a shaft that is 20 x 20cm, a smaller cross section than a sheet of A4 paper, and manoeuvre along its 60m length

The film reveals intricate markings, also called quarryman’s marks, on the floor of a small hidden chamber.

To coincide with the release of the film, the scientists are making available all nine hours of the recorded video so it can be studied by archaeologists and ancient historians.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the biggest and oldest of the three pyramids that stand on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt. It is believed to have been built around 4,500 years ago.

Over the years, various archaeological teams have explored the pyramid, reaching what is known as the Queen’s Chamber.

Those archaeological digs found, hidden behind a false wall, a narrow shaft that climbed at a 40-degree angle up into the pyramid.

A group of research engineers involving the University of Leeds accepted a challenge by Hong Kong dentist and inventor Dr Tze Chuen Ng to build a robot capable of exploring the pyramid without causing damage to it

However, these explorations also resulted in damage to the shaft.

Thus, Rob Richardson, Professor of Robotics at the University of Leeds, accepted a challenge by Hong Kong dentist and inventor Dr Tze Chuen Ng to design and build a robot that could survey the shaft without causing any damage to the pyramid.

According to Richardson, the robot took five years to develop. “This design was certainly challenging.

“The robot had to be extremely lightweight – and in the end we got it down to 5kg.

“Because it was so light, it did not require a lot of power – in the end, the challenges started to become opportunities.”

The robot was able to navigate the shaft and record exclusive footage of the inside.

The robot discovered intricate markings, also known as quarryman’s marks, on the floor of a small hidden chamber

Richardson added: “No one knows the purpose of the shaft: there has been speculation that it could be an air vent or perhaps access to a burial tomb.

“About 50m along the shaft – several metres before what we think is the end, there is a stone put in place to block further access.

“We do not know what that stone is blocking access to. We were able to get a camera past the stone – it revealed a small chamber with intricate symbols painted onto the floor.

“Given the artwork, it is likely the shaft served a bigger purpose than act as an air shaft. But what that bigger purpose was remains a mystery. ”

The robot’s camera also revealed a second blocking stone, which they could not get past.

Richardson said that what lies beyond that second stone, at the end of the shaft, is a question that will remain unanswered due to the project being cut short because of growing security problems in Egypt.

The 45-minute documentary can be watched on the Ancient Architects channel on YouTube – click here to watch a trailer. The raw footage recorded by the robot can be seen by following the following links: Part 1 and Part 2

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