Pompeii: Robots and artificial intelligence to the rescue to rebuild murals

Gorgeous mural depicting a mermaid sitting on the back of a dragon’s tail. This is what archaeologists discovered in the ruins of Pompeii in 2019. In recent years, the remains of the ancient city destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 have provided many extraordinary treasures thanks to many new excavations.

But it is not easy to group all the treasures together like the mural in this thermobolium hardly damaged. Some even pose real puzzles that professionals still struggle to put the pieces together. And for good reason, it’s not easy to get thousands of parts in the right place when you don’t know what the raw image will look like.

To overcome this difficulty the researchers decided to use technology. Last September, the archaeological site of Pompeii announced the launch of a unique project with an evocative name: Project “RePAIR” to “Rebuild the Past: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Meet Cultural Heritage”.

When robotics and artificial intelligence meet archeology

This initiative aims to use robotics and artificial intelligence to rebuild businesses that have disappeared. “The flasks, frescoes, and mosaics are often highlighted in a fragmented state, only partially intact or with many missing pieces.Gabriel Zustregel, director of the Archaeological Park in Pompeii, explained.

When the number of parts is very large, with thousands of parts, manual rebuilding and understanding the connections between parts is always impossible or is a very tedious and slow task.He continued in a press release.

Each mural can consist of thousands of pieces that must be found in their rightful place. © Parco Archeologico de Pompeii

With the help of robotics, digitalization and artificial intelligence, the RePAIR project aims to solve a very old problemHe added that the initiative brings together several teams of researchers, some of whom have already worked on such a methodology for several years.

Ultimately, they hope to develop a robotic infrastructure equipped with mechanical arms capable of scanning and identifying fragments via a 3D scanning system and placing each one in the appropriate place. All while handling it without causing the slightest damage thanks to the highly advanced sensors.

The first experimental subjects have already been selected

If designing a device capable of such manipulations is already a first difficulty, then training its system is a second. But the RePAIR scientists already have their first experimental subjects: the murals of Chula ArmatureRoom And that of the House of Painters.

The first building, located on the main street of Pompeii, was to serve as the headquarters of a military confederation. Discovered in 1915, it revealed weapons, flasks, and many wall decorations that survived the eruption of Vesuvius. However, they were damaged by Allied bombing in 1943 and the collapse of the building in 2010.

Hence the murals of Chula ArmatureRoom Take on its full importance. If today they are reduced to a state of fragments, then specialists know what they looked like before. Thus it provides a valuable model for testing and training a future robot.

The goal of the RePAIR project is to develop a system capable of scanning and manipulating each part to return it to its original location. © Parco archeologico di Pompei

The frescoes in the painters’ house did not meet the same fate. Archaeologists believe artists were still making them when the eruption occurred. Hence the name of the building. And the rooms it contained did not survive the collapse caused by the volcanic eruption.

Bombings during World War II did the most damage to them. Since there is no reference image for this puzzle, it is a more difficult task. “Imagine you have five different puzzles‘, it is clear to Scientific American Marcello Bellello, project coordinator and professor at the University of Venice.

One with the Eiffel Tower, the other with the Colosseum, etc. Open the boxes and mix all the pieces. Then you are asked to solve the five puzzles. This is what we will doHe continued.We believe that an AI-based system will not be enoughHe explained.

Installation plan for spring or summer 2022

That is why the researchers also plan to invite archaeologists and art historians to gather information on the different styles of frescoes discovered so far in Pompeii. Currently, they are manually scanning all parts of each board to provide a digital database for the robot.

Once the system is fully operational, it will be the device’s turn to perform the scans by itself. The RePAIR team hopes to install their robot directly in Pompeii in the spring or summer of 2022. If the technology works, it could have many other applications in places other than the hidden ancient city.

We hope that if we succeed in this project, we will be able to offer technology that will allow many museums around the world to reconstruct large-scale frescoes or similar artifacts.“Perhaps papyri,” concluded Professor Bellillo.

>>> Discover A complete file on the archaeological site of Pompeii.

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