Robot discovers secret writing in Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza has always sparked the imagination. Among its many mysteries are four tiny passages running through the interior. The smallest are only eight inches square, far too small for a person to crawl through, so what were they for?

As you can see from the cutaway above, two of the tunnels angle up from the King’s Chamber to exit the pyramid. Some researchers believe these have astronomical alignments. Like with all ancient agricultural societies, observing the heavens was important to the Egyptians. The other two tunnels seem not to go anywhere. Some claim they lead to hidden chambers, or allowed the pharaoh’s soul to pass out of the tomb, but nobody really knows. Now a robot has added new pieces to the puzzle by going down one of these tunnels and filming it.

Robots in the pyramids are nothing new. Robotic exploration started in the 1990s, when remote-controlled cameras on wheels rolled up the two lower tunnels, only to find them blocked by strange stone “doors” decorated with a pair of copper pins. One of the doors had a small hole drilled in it, and a new robot with a camera on the end of a flexible cable looked on the other side.

What it found raises more questions than it answers. The secret door doesn’t seem to have any way to open, and on the other side of it are hieroglyphs. Egyptologists are hoping the hidden message will explain one of the pyramid’s greatest mysteries.

Why is there writing where nobody can read it? And why is the back of the door highly polished? There’s also a mason’s mark on the stone that the researchers are puzzling over. Egyptologists are busy trying to decipher the hieroglyphs and are planning more journeys for the intrepid robot. For more on the technology behind the discovery, check out this post on Dr. Zahi Hawass’ website.

These are good times for pyramid studies. A satellite has detected what could be seventeen lost pyramids, and last summer the pyramids of Abusir and Dahshur opened to the public.

[Image courtesy Jeff Dahl]

Google Wants a Moon Rover Bad: More Private Space Travel to Follow?

Fly me to the moon. If it’s a robot you’re talking about, you’re on. Google has a grand plan. The company will pay 30 million dollars to the company that can make them a robotic moon rover, get it there, and get it to beam images and a video back to Earth so they can put it on their Web site. This endeavor is being run like a contest. Any private company in the world that can do this by the end of 2012 gets the dough. If there isn’t anyone who is successful by then, the contest is still on until 2014, but the prize money drops to $15 million.

If you have a private company that might be up to the task, here’s a little check list to help you keep track of the Google X Prize contest requirements. The moonrover must be able to:

  • survive a landing with cameras and high definition video in working order
  • trek at least 1,312 feet on the moon
  • take pictures of itself, plus panoramic shots and a real time video (close to real time)
  • beam those shots and video back to Earth so they can be posted and streamed on Google’s Web site.

These robot building races are not new. In a contest last year, robots raced across the Mojave Desert. William Whittaker who is at Carnegie Mellon University, was in charge of two of those robots and now has his eyes on Google’s carrot, and probably not so much for the money. It’s not that anyone will make a fortune if they are successful. Space missions are pricey. Getting the rover to the moon is a large part of the cost so financially it may be a wash, particularly if you don’t meet the 2012 deadline.

From what I read, it sounds like the challenge of saying, “We did it” might make this happen more than the money will. If it does, this might make commercial space travel closer to the rest of us. Since Google has paired with X Prize Foundation, the organization responsible for the first private spaceflight in 2004, I’d say we might be watching a moon rover do it’s thing on our computer screen one of these days. By 2012, I wonder what those computers will look like? Doesn’t 2012 sound like a long way away? It’s only 7 years. Gaad.