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Robotic Indiana Jones to penetrate pyramid

Rover goes where no man can to unravel Egyptian mystery

An engineer watches a video monitor as the pyramid rover begins to explore the Great Pyramid.
An engineer watches a video monitor as the pyramid rover begins to explore the Great Pyramid.  

From Ben Wedeman

(CNN) -- The wonders of the ancient world don't give up their secrets easily. But the most advanced modern technology is being put to use in Egypt to answer questions about the most advanced ancient engineering -- Egypt's Great Pyramid.

National Geographic, using the same kind of robot used to search for survivors in the ruins of the World Trade Center, is trying to solve a mystery that lies deep in the bowels of the 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid of Giza.

Up a tiny square tunnel is a stone hatch with copper handles that was discovered in 1872. No one knows the purpose of the shaft, and no one knows what lies behind the hatch.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports scientists in Egypt are using a mini-robot device to explore a secret shaft in the Great Pyramid in Giza (September 12)

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A mini-robot, dubbed the pyramid rover, has been called in. This modern marvel is about 5.5 inches wide and 1 foot long. Its four sets of treads, two above and two below, engage the bottom and the top of the tunnel to give it traction.

Rick Allen, with National Geographic, said the pyramid rover fits all the necessary requirements for scaling the tiny crevices.

"It has to be an extraordinary engineering feat to go up a 40-degree, 200-foot shaft," he said. "It also has to carry an extraordinary amount of scientific equipment in the lightest possible vehicle in a design that allows it to fit in the shaft and to keep it from slipping down."

Crawling up the shaft at about five feet per minute, the rover is maneuvered remotely from a makeshift control room in the pyramid's queen's chamber.

Hoping to see many wondrous things

Ground-penetrating radar and ultra-sound can, at best, get just below the surface of the pyramid.

The pyramids of Giza: The Great Pyramid is on the right.  

On Monday night, the team hopes to dig deeper into the mystery. The rover will insert a fiber optic camera through cracks in the hatch to see what is on the other side.

Speculation about what the rover will find is intense. Some believe there could be a secret chamber or long lost ancient documents. Others venture there may be nothing at all.

Whatever is there, archaeologists are thrilled they're finally going to get a peek.

"To find out what is behind the door -- if there is something, it will be great," said Zahi Hawass, with the Higher Council of Antiquities. "If there is nothing? It will be great."


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