A tiny robot could help unlock the mysteries of the queen's chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Nobody knows where two unexplored air shafts leading from that ancient room lead. The hope is that the remote-controlled robotic tunnel explorer--which can fit through holes less than one inch in diameter--can drill through the secret door blocking the shafts and gather evidence that determines their purpose.
Leeds University in the U.K. is teaming with the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt and a team of international engineers to construct the bot, which is also known as the Djedi project after the magician consulted by Egypt's King Khufu as he planned the layout of his pyramid. The structure was built over a 20-year period thought to end around 2560 BC. The Djedi bot is equipped with a mini ultrasonic device that can tap on walls and listen to the response to help determine the thickness and condition of the stone, and a coring drill that can penetrate the rock (if necessary) while removing the minimum amount of material necessary.
It has a precision compass and inclinometer to measure the orientation of the shafts. Importantly, it's also fitted with lights and a "snake camera" that can see around corners--and hopefully yield new information into the curved air shafts, which were discovered in 1872 by a British engineer named Waynman Dixon.
During a mission in 1992, archaeologists sent another robot, named Upuaut 2, up one of the tunnels and found it blocked by a limestone door with two copper handles. Ten years later, researchers drilled through that door, only to find another one about 8 inches away.
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