HARBIN -- 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.
It was the culmination of a two-year project jointly run by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the National Museum, the Science and Technology University of Hong Kong, and the Harbin Institute of Technology, said Tie.
"The project runs the gamut from tomb excavation, culture relics preservation, to intelligent control," said Tie.
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, Zhu Xiaorui, of the Harbin Institute of Technology.
"Archaeologists can then plan excavations on this data," said Zhu.
She 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.
Chinese archaeologists already use robots widely in underwater explorations.