While reading my usual Popular Science and Popular Mechanics articles I ran into a few which dealt with robotics. Of course there are many robotics articles, but these are the ones that caught my attention regarding archaeology.
The first deals with finding mines underwater (by mines I mean war mines, like the ones in the Windows game Minesweeper, and not gold/coal/etc mines). This one was interesting not so much because of future technologies being mentioned, but more because of past solutions being discussed. Did you know that the US Navy used Dolphins and Sea Lions to find Mines underwater? I didn’t until this article. The dolphins are trained to find specific objects (mines) underwater and cameras or sensors are attached to them for the US Navy to then follow up on the found object. Imagine archaeologists used this solution to find shipwrecks and other interesting features underwater. Well, it is very expensive to do so, which is why the Navy is retiring the Dolphins and most probably why archaeologists have not used this solution. The Dolphins will be replaced with robots, which are a cheaper solution and more controllable option.
The second article is about a robot currently being developed which is controlled using one’s mind. Yes, I am aware of how science-fictiony this sounds, but the use of thought as a controller for computer software is not something as new as you may think and it is a field that is rapidly expanding. People have already used this new “thought reading” technology to control a robot, help a paralyzed man control a robotic arm and play games. What this research group is focusing on though, is making the controller feel “embodied in the body of the humanoid robot”. How is this relevant to archaeology? Well, this technology, once smooth movement of the robot can be achieved, could be used by archaeologists to reach areas of a site that may be unreachable by a human. A small robot that can reach the destination may be used and be controlled by an archaeologist to ensure that the job is done correctly and with care.
What is the best part of all this? The technology is commercially available already. Well, I am not referring to the dolphins, I think they have served their time and can swim freely now, but robots for underwater exploration already exist and are being used by marine archaeologists. Also, the thought reading software can be easily bought and used by anyone, however its uses are still being researched and archaeologists might want to wait until robotic control is smooth enough to be of any use to them.