Imagine you have a jigsaw puzzle with 10,000 pieces but no picture on a box. In fact, you don’t even have the box—it was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago. These puzzle pieces are fragments of frescoes in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii that were leveled or buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Some pieces are missing, others are broken. And instead of being precisely-cut shapes designed to neatly interlock, they’re damaged, irregular fragments. How would you solve this puzzle?
Scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) have a plan: Send in the robot. Their project—dubbed RePAIR (Reconstructing the Past: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics meet Cultural Heritage)—melds robotics, AI and archaeology in an attempt to reconstruct architectural features of Pompeii that would otherwise remain incomplete, because they’re either too complex or would require impossible amounts of human labor and time.
Over the next several months, the IIT…