The Italian Almanac

robot dog

Argo the Robot Dog

Italy has come up with a robot dog to guard museums and keep art works in the best state of conservation. The robot, dubbed Argo, scoots around on four wheels, 'sniffing' the air for variations in light, temperature and humidity that can harm paintings. It also carries a set of special security cameras enabling it to 'freeze-frame' galleries and call for help if intruders appear on the scene. Argo's electronic nose is even able to detect toxic gases.

The dog, which acts as part of a museum-wide system of sensors, has been put through its paces in the major galleries in Turin - where it was created at the city's Politecnico University. The university's robot surveillance lab, SITI, is now gearing to set up a spin-off company to invent other machines for protecting Italy's immense art heritage. "We've set up an interdisciplinary group including computer whizzes, engineers, security experts and art historians," said SITI head Riccardo Roscelli, who will show Italy's art and defence establishment what Argo can do later this month.

SITI has already created new systems for protecting art works while they're travelling from one museum to another. The so-called 'smart crates' monitor all the variables that can hurt an artwork, including heat, humidity and shocks. "They can even tell drivers that they're not driving straight enough," said Sergio Olivero of SITI's Security and Safety unit. Aside from protecting works while they're in transit, the new electronic crates can bring "considerable" reductions in insurance costs, Olivero said. He said this would have been a boon for museums in the recent expensive trips of Mantegna's Dead Christ from Milan to Mantua and Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation from Florence to Japan.