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TECHNOLOGY

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.”

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CULTURE

Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?

Italy has put another pillar of national culture forward for inclusion on the UN agency's list of intangible global heritage - but it's not the art of making coffee, as many had hoped.

Why did Italy choose opera over espresso in its bid for Unesco status?

Music or coffee? This was essentially the tough choice Italy’s National Committee for Unesco was faced with when deciding which treasured Italian art form to recommend for recognition this year.

In the end, the committee on Monday chose to put forward the art of opera singing as the country’s candidate – meaning the art of making espresso coffee will not be considered for addition to the list alongside Neapolitan pizza-making after all.

On announcing the decision, the committee did not give any reason for its selection though said the much-discussed and somewhat controversial application for the candidacy of espresso coffee had been “highly appreciated”.

“With the candidacy of the Italian opera to the world’s intangible heritage, Italy is aiming to get recognition for one of its most authentic and original cultural expressions,” said culture minister Dario Franceschini after the committee’s decision.

“Italian opera singing is an integral part of the world’s cultural patrimony, which provides light, strength and beauty in the darkest hours”.

A performance of Puccini’s 1900 opera ‘Tosca’ at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP.

The announcement came as a boost for those working in opera houses and theatres across Italy after the Italian arts an cultural sector was hit hard by pandemic-related closures.

Italy has around 60 opera houses – the most in the world.

“Opera was born in Italy,” said Stephane Lissner, the French director of the San Carlo theatre in Naples, which opened in 1737 and claims to be the world’s oldest opera house.

“In the 19th century, when you arrived in any Italian town, the entire population sang opera arias. It was normal,” he told AFP.

Compared to France or Germany, he said: “Italy is different, Italian theatres are different… and if you go into the villages, they’re not even towns, you find small theatres.”

In Italy, lyrical music “is not just reserved for the elite”, he added, although he said “the majority of the public cannot pay certain ticket prices and has been abandoned”, which he said was a “huge error”.

In contrast, Italian coffee is an everyday pleasure enjoyed by the majority of the population – and the price of an espresso is kept below the symbolic threshold of one euro at most local bars due to the widespread belief that the drink should be  accessible to all.

READ ALSO: Where, when and how to drink coffee like an Italian

In fact, it’s not unusual for people to avoid bars that charge more than one euro for un caffè normale, even if that’s for a better-quality cup – with some reports of customers even complaining to the police about being charged higher prices for artisanal or specialist coffees. 

But this focus on keeping the price of Italian coffee low may be part of the reason the Unesco bid was rejected, according to food writer Nunzia Clemente in Naples.

“90-cent coffee shouldn’t make us proud,” Clemente wrote in a post on Italian food blog Dissapore.

Pointing to examples of corner-cutting by bar owners struggling to make a profit, she said “the final result is, half the time, bad to say the least”.

Unesco’s ruling on the bid for recognition of opera is due at the end of the year.

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