IN PICTURES: Pompeii tests new robotic dog named ‘Spot’

A robot 'dog' that can collect data and alert staff to structural issues is being trialled at the historic site of Pompeii.

Visitors look at 'Spot', a quadruped robot, as a technician displays its capabilities on June 9, 2022 during a presentation at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
Visitors look at 'Spot', a quadruped robot, as a technician displays its capabilities on June 9, 2022 during a presentation at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Under the amused gaze of many tourists, a robot dog wanders the ancient stone alleys of Pompeii’s famous archaeological park.

Meet Spot, a friendly, yellow-and-black remote-controlled creature with a gangly gait who looks like a dog crossed with an insect – all wrapped up in a robot’s body.

Visitors to Pompeii take photos of Spot the robot.
Visitors to Pompeii take photos of Spot the robot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Spot’s current mission at Pompeii is to inspect hard-to-access areas of the sprawling ruins, to collect data and alert his handlers to safety and structural problems.

“Particularly underground structures where safety conditions won’t allow (staff) to enter, such as in the park’s many very narrow and dangerous tunnels,” Pompeii’s general director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Phallus of Pompeii: Italian art exhibition reveals ancient sexuality

Pompeii's site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel poses with Spot.Pompeii’s site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel poses with Spot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

His purvey includes surveying tunnels dug out in clandestine excavations, which Zuchtriegel said “unfortunately still take place in the area”.

With its excavated ruins spread out over 44 hectares (109 acres), the archaeological site preserves the remains of the ancient wealthy city south of Naples, buried by ash after the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Spot is driven through an underground tunnel by a technician.

Spot is driven through an underground tunnel by a technician. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Spot – who weighs 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and is about the size of a Golden Retriever – is controlled remotely with a tablet and better equipped than people to survey certain areas of the park.

The robot is made by US company Boston Dynamics, which specialises in robotics, including for the military.

READ ALSO: Italian researchers unearth ancient fast food joint in Pompeii

The company’s website says Spot can be used in industries such as construction, mining and manufacturing, among others, carrying out inspections and capturing data.

Spot in an underground tunnel beneath Pompeii.
Spot in an underground tunnel beneath Pompeii. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Controlling Spot this week in Pompeii was Valerio Brunelli, business developer for Leica Geosystem, which makes a 3D flying scanner, resembling a drone, that accompanies the robot in its rounds.

Brunelli made Spot bow and wiggle for the crowd.

Technicians handle the robot.

Technicians handle the robot. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

“Spot is an amalgamation of technology that makes it a robot capable of exploring very complicated places, such as those found here,” said Brunelli.

“It’s a leap into the future for a thousand-year-old park”.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: The treasures unearthed during Pompeii’s six-year restoration

The robot is being used on a trial basis and comes with a $75,000 price tag.

Spot walks among the ruins of Pompeii.

Spot walks among the ruins of Pompeii. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

Director Zuchtriegel said a decision on whether or not to buy Spot had not yet been made, but that rapid changes in the technology sector made choosing expensive, high-tech purchases difficult.

“People are always needed, so there will never be a robot dog to be the guardian inside the Pompeii site. That is not the goal.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Beyond Venice: Seven of Italy’s most magical carnivals

Italy's carnival season brings colour and fun to the grey month of February, and Venice is far from the only place putting on a show.

Beyond Venice: Seven of Italy's most magical carnivals

Transforming the Serenissima into a Rococo wonderland for a packed two weeks, Venice’s carnival is rightly renowned as one of the highlights in Italy’s cultural calendar.

But when it comes to carnival celebrations, the country’s offerings extend far beyond Venice’s waters.

READ ALSO: Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

From three-day food fights to sky-high floats and masked revelries, here are some of Italy’s most spectacular carnivals to look out for.

Putignano – February 12th, 19th, 21st, 25th

Putignano’s carnival is one of Europe’s oldest, dating back to 1394 when the relics of Saint Stephen were transported to the town to protect them from Saracen raids, and locals downed tools to join the procession and celebrate.

This is also one of the longest-running carnivals in Europe, starting on Boxing Day and traditionally ending on Shrove Tuesday, when a papier-mâché pig is carried through the streets and then burned. Concerts, shows, and various parades all feature.

More information here.

Viareggio – February 12th, 16th, 19th, 21st, 25th

In Viareggio’s masked parade, hundreds of colourful papier-mâché floats up to 70 feet high are carried along the Tuscan seafront to music and dancing.

It started out in 1873 as a protest at the upper classes not having to pay taxes and continues to provide political and social commentary today – expect to see papier-mâché caricatures of politicians and celebrities atop the carnival floats.

More information here.

One of Viareggio's 2017 carnival floats.

One of Viareggio’s 2017 carnival floats. Photo by Claudio GIOVANNINI / AFP.

Fano – February 12th, 19th

Fano’s is the sweetest of all the festivals, as chocolates, sweets and sugared almonds are thrown from the float wagons into the crowds of spectators.

It dates all the way back to 1347, making it one of Italy’s oldest carnivals, and is thought to have originated as a celebration of a reconciliation between two warring local families.

If you prefer sweet spectacles to tastes, in the last parade the floats are lit up with luminarie, making them particularly impressive to look at.

More information here.

Ivrea – February 12th, 16th, 18th-21st

Looking for something more exciting than your average parade? In Ivrea, the highlight of the festivities is the annual orange fight – a rather messy way of commemorating the local people’s struggle against the city’s tyrant and, later, against Napoleonic troops.

READ ALSO: What changes about life in Italy in February 2023

Those on foot represent the townspeople while those on carts play the part of the troops, all throwing oranges at each other. The epic battle lasts three days – this year, the 19th to the 21st – at the end of which awards are bestowed on the winning teams.

More information here.

Members of orange battle teams throw oranges at each other during the traditional "Battle of the Oranges" festival held during the carnival in Ivrea, near Turin, on March 3, 2019.

Members of orange battle teams throw oranges at each other during Ivrea’s 2019 “Battle of the Oranges”. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

Acireale – February 11th-21st

Acireale’s festivities once involved locals throwing rotten eggs, oranges and lemons at each other in the street – but luckily for 21st century visitors, the custom was banned in 1612.

These days it’s a much more respectable affair: as well as papier-mâché caricatures of public figures, you can expect to see elaborate flower and light displays.

If you miss the February festivities, Acireale’s carnival is so popular it usually returns for a few weeks in July and August.

More information here.

Mamoiada – February 11th, 16th, 18th-21st, 25th

This carnival is one of Sardinia’s oldest folk festivals, drawing on ancient traditions. Instead of papier-mâché floats, expect to see Mamuthones and Issohadores.

The former parade in groups of 12, dressed in black masks and dark sheep skins; the latter, dressed in red with white masks, lead the Mamuthones with complex dance steps. At a certain point the Issohadores ‘catch’ onlookers with a rope, who then free themselves by offering food or wine.

Festivities end with feasting on pork and beans, while wine and local sweets are traditionally offered to visitors throughout the carnival.

More information here.

'Mamuthones' join other revellers in Mamoiada's carnival celebrations. Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP.

‘Mamuthones’ join other revellers in Mamoiada’s carnival celebrations. Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP.
Cento – February 12th, 19th, 26th, March 5th

This quiet medieval town in the Emilia Romagna countryside comes to life in February when it puts on its ‘Carnival of Europe’ festival. Since the early 90s it’s been twinned with Rio de Janeiro’s carnival, with the winning floats getting to appear in the Rio parade.

Watch out for flying objects – part of Cento’s tradition is the gettito, where toys and inflatable objects are thrown from the floats into the crowd. The end of the festival is marked with an unmissable fireworks show.

More information here.