The idea of using a robot to go where a human wouldn't has been a popular one in science fiction, and to a lesser degree, in reality as well. Robots capable of performing such feats haven't been around all that long, but the concept of sending in the robots has just been made a bit more credible thanks to plans to send in a robot to the Teotihuacan archaeological site in Mexico to finish off the exploration, where humans would have a much tougher time reaching.
The use of the Tlaloc II-TC robot reportedly represents only the third such use of a robot anywhere in the world, and the robot is uniquely suited to such tasks. The Tlaloc II-TC looks almost like a robotic version of a “rat rod,” except with tracks instead of wheels, sloped downward to almost look like a wedge. That makes it well-suited for operating in small, tight spaces like the last part of a tunnel in the Teotihuacan site.
But this particular robot also packs a set of robotic arms geared toward helping it clear obstructions within the tunnel, located under the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, commonly known as Quetzalcoatl. Once the tunnel is cleared, archaeologists expect to find a chamber dating back roughly two millennia, where important figures in the city of Teotihuacan were either buried or received investiture. The use of the robot is expected to allow some of the biggest archaeological discoveries found at the site, which was one of the largest Mesoamerican cities in the pre-Columbian era.
Robotic explorers aren't exactly new. A polar rover powered by wind has been seen operating in Antarctic exploration. The Opportunity rover is still making a bit impact on Mars, and it's certainly not alone. Robotic explorers are looking to head for one of Jupiter's moons as part of a grant-funded project. The risks to a robot are substantially less than the direct equivalent risk to a human being, so putting them into high-risk situations like exploring planets, moons, or potentially lethal environments makes a lot more sense than sending a human. Better still, robots don't have to be used in isolation. They can be used to clear or secure environments where a human would want, or need, to go, allowing for maximum safety and versatility.
Robots have an incredible amount of value when it comes to exploration missions, be it in the harsh environments of other planets or just in unusually tight spaces like those under Teotihuacan. Using robots as exploratory tools is an excellent idea, and hopefully, an idea that will show its truest value down under the Temple of the Plumed Serpent when it breaks through to a room containing archaeological treasures beyond imagining.
Edited by Rich Steeves