Back in November, muon tomography of the Great Pyramid at Giza revealed a previously undiscovered large void, deep within the last standing Wonder of the Ancient World. Naturally scientists are super enthused about exploring this new mystery — but how to do so in a way that won’t break through doors or walls, compromising the state in which the mystery was left? Besides the loss of scientific clues due to damage, explorers could also cause a collapse of part of the structure, or might bring down an ancient curse. (Kidding about that last one!)
To get around these challenges, French research institutes Inria and CNRS are working on a brand new kind of remote robot, an autonomous blimp. They hope the robot will open up the Great Pyramid void to science, while leaving it as sealed as possible in practical terms.
The deployment procedure would involve drilling an approximately 3.5cm hole into the outer wall of the chamber, and sliding the cylindrical robot inside, nestled into its rod-like dock. Once in the chamber, the robot would unfold and inflate its 80cm helium envelope and take off into the void. Equipped with 50g worth of sensors, lights, and motors, the blimp would investigate the secrets of the space, before returning to the dock, folding back up, and being withdrawn through the hole. (Check out the design video here)
The robot is designed but not yet prototyped — one of the puzzles the creators are still working through is how exactly the robot will fold up its deflated envelope again. But the rest of the concept is well hashed out, and represents a great improvement over other, traditional methods of exploration:
“[T]here are quite a few good reasons why it would be better than other types of ground robots with wheels, tracks, or legs, or drones with rotors. A blimp doesn’t have to worry about stairs, rocks, ramps (or traps). You get a much better perspective from a blimp, and you can also cover more area more quickly. Blimps can also harmlessly bounce off of obstacles and are less likely to crash than a conventional rotorcraft, and you have to figure that a blimp crash (if it does occur) would be much more pillowy in nature.”
I cannot wait to see how cutting edge tech unveils more of the mysteries of the human past, in a way that is as respectful as possible of the mystery itself! I’m sure chances of finding something as immediately gratifying as, say, treasure, are not high. But there is huge value in any information the blimp might uncover — and besides, if there’s no treasure, there’s no Boris Karloff look-alike to hassle you over it!