Inria and CNRS develop an exploration robot for the ScanPyramids project

The ScanPyramids project made headlines a few weeks ago, with the announcement of the discovery of a large cavity in the Kheops pyramid by the ScanPyramids team. The CEA’s archaeologists and scientists used muon detectors, particles from cosmic radiation, which allowed them to detect a cavity about 30 metres long in the heart of the great pyramid. We now have to explore this unknown space without taking the risk of destroying the archaeological treasures that have perhaps crossed centuries in this secret cavity. Inria and CNRS researchers are working on a particularly original drone/robot, a balloon drone that will literally be injected inside the pyramid.

Robots for minimally invasive exploration

In order to explore the cavity detected by the ScanPyramids team, researchers want to do what they call minimally invasive robotic exploration. They imagined a robotic device that could fit into a hole only 3.5 cm in diameter. a first tubular robot will be able to advance in this hole by returning HD images until it finds the cavity. From then on, a particularly original drone will come into action. Injected into the cavity by the same hole, this drone is in fact a balloon that will inflate with helium to reach 80 cm in diameter and take off. The payload reaches only 50 grams, but it is enough to film the interior of the cavity. This airship can move autonomously and then return to its starting point to be extracted by the inlet tube. An extraction that looks like a tour de force since the drone will not be able to rely on either the GPS network or on beacons to locate itself.
Asked by IEEE Spectrum, Jean-Baptiste Mouret, an Inria researcher, explains that the solution studied is to use the HyperCube sensor developed by the Institut des Sciences du Mouvement (CNRS/Aix-Marseille Université), an infrared sensor that will allow the drone to trace its trajectory in the pyramid, then make the reverse path in an environment totally devoid of any light source other than those of the drone.

An airship drone balloon adapted to the specific conditions of the pyramid

This balloon choice may seem surprising at a time when quadcopter type drones of all sizes are increasingly used to bring back images. In addition to the fact that the deflated balloon must pass through a 3.5 cm diameter tube before it is inflated, researchers point out the balloon’s natural stability and energy efficiency, as well as the fact that it will not damage a wall fresco if it strikes a wall during explorations.

Although the first robot is already working as a prototype, researchers are still working on the balloon drone, especially for this critical phase of the return and extraction of the drone from the pyramid.


“Robotic Blimp Could Explore Hidden Chambers of Great Pyramid of Giza”, IEEE Spectrum, 12 December 2017

“Inria and CNRS join the ScanPyramids multidisciplinary team and
unveil a concept for a minimally invasive exploration robot”, Press release Inria/CNRS, 29 November 2017

Translated with

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