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School of Archaeology showcases multi-million pound tech, including robot dog


Boston Dynamics 'spot' robot dog

Dogs are well known for digging up bones, but the University of Bradford's new pet pooch will be sniffing out a whole lot more. 

The Boston Dynamics 'Spot' robot dog, acquired by the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences and affectionately nicknamed 'BD25,' in a nod to the University's partnership with Bradford 2025, UK City of Culture, can explore and map hazardous sites without the need for a human companion.

It is the first in the UK to have colour vision and it can also climb up and down stairs. 

The mechanical canine -  which was procured from KOREC Group and retails from £160,000  - has been partnered with technology firm Trimble to offer high-density surveying capability. It has been equipped with a 3D laser scanner, and other sensors will be added in due course, including a mobile mapping kit. The possibilities for use are endless, but in Yorkshire, academics plan to use it for exploring and recording heritage at risk such as abandoned mill buildings.

Boston Dynamics dog with Professor Andrew Wilson

Professor Andrew Wilson, Chair of the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, pictured above, said: "BD25 isn't just a gimmick, it's an incredibly useful tool to give academics, industry and students access to sites which have, until now, been off limits for humans due to safety concerns. Having BD25 at the University, along with the rest of our suite of capabilities, means our students, researchers and collaborators have access to cutting edge technologies that place the UK at the forefront of opportunities for collections, conservation and heritage science."

Yesterday (Weds 13th September), 'BD25' was taken for walkies around the University campus to the delight of more than 100 invited guests, as part of a showcase of the School's new multi-million suite of cutting-edge technologies. 

The expo included demonstrations of the School's ultra-high definition CT scanners using a mummified hawk on loan from Bradford District Museums and Galleries. The scanners include the UK's first FujiFilm NewTom 7G Cone Beam CT-scanner which allows scientists to see inside the most delicate artefacts without causing any damage, including soft tissue in mummies, and the Zeiss MetroTom 1500 micro CT unit, which takes cross-sectional imaging down to 10 microns, meaning it can be used on objects barely visible to the human eye. Such equipment will establish national capabilities in heritage science at Bradford, which will not only benefit the region but the country as a whole. 

Professor Wilson added: "We are hugely excited to be able to demonstrate our new capabilities, which include some of the latest technologies available that build from expertise in Visualising Heritage and can support endeavours ranging from the study of human remains and what they can tell us about nutrition, health, disease and identity, through to the use of below-ground terrestrial and airborne prospection, survey and digital documentation, capabilities that help to place these assemblages and related evidence in context.

"The value of our new capabilities is as a shared, national asset, so that other institutions and organisations can also benefit. We hope the University of Bradford will become a central hub, through which we can share opportunities for research."

With Prof Wilson and specimens

Pictured above: Professor Wilson with the Cone Beam CT scanner, showing a cranium and vertebrae from the University's collections and a mummified hawk, on loan from Bradford District Museums and Galleries. 

The University of Bradford has a long-established reputation as one of the key centres for archaeological research in the UK, recognised by being awarded the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2021 in recognition of its world-leading work and innovation in developing archaeological technology and techniques and its influence on practice, policy, and society.

The kit has been funded through investment the University has received through Capco, the Capability for Collections fund, part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council's (AHRC) allocation of world-class laboratories funding, UKRI World Class Labs. 

Vice-Chancellor Shirley Congdon said: "This funding will support transformational change for the discipline areas of Archaeology, Conservation and Heritage Sciences at the University of Bradford. Powered by new technology, we will translate knowledge into real-world societal, economic and international benefit bringing about new approaches to interdisciplinary collaboration in a manner that will  surprise, excite and engage partners and the public." 

Yesterday, guests at the showcase were also able to view the UK's first Leica TRK700 Evo, a vehicle-mounted mobile mapping system capable of capturing two million data points every second. This will be used alongside the UK's first Mosaic Viking, the highest resolution 360 camera in the world. Together these will be used to expand Virtual Bradford, a collaboration between the University and Bradford Council to create an open digital twin of the city, a fly-through of which was shown in an immersive walk-in mixed reality cave, with the Solus Reality Portal and immersive solution from Igloo Vision.

Vice-Chancellor Shirley Congdon views Virtual Bradford

Pictured above: Vice-Chancellor Shirley Congdon view Virtual Bradford in an immersive mixed reality portal

These above-ground survey capabilities are complemented by investments in geophysical prospection technologies, that include ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and electrical resistance tomography. Collectively, they reinvigorate Bradford's leading expertise in shallow-surface geophysics for archaeology, heritage and forensic applications. 

Artwork by school children from primary schools in nearby Saltaire, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was on display at the showcase. The University has worked with two schools, as well as local artist Sharon Snaylam, to sketch and photograph some of the historic buildings in Saltaire, as part of the People, Heritage and Place project for Phase Two of Virtual Bradford. 

Outside companies were also invited in to exhibit, including Leica and FujiFilm. 

AHRC Executive Chair Christopher Smith said: "The past belongs to us all and is an invaluable resource, but much of it remains hidden from view or is invisible to the naked eye. When the remains we want to study are too fragile or their location too dangerous to access or their details are too minute to see, we must turn to technology.

“The equipment which our funding has supported, and which is unveiled today is a perfect illustration of how arts and humanities research drives technological development, enabling exciting discoveries. It will enable researchers to delve deeper into our past and reveal new levels of detail about the way our predecessors lived and worked. This is part of AHRC’s commitment to supporting innovation in the conservation and heritage sector.”

Vice Chancellor with members of the council

Pictured above: Vice-Chancellor Shirley Congdon pictured with members of Bradford Council, from left, Adrian Walker, Sydney Simpson and Joseph Ritchings. 

Amanda Bradshaw, Regional Sales Director, KOREC Group, said: "KOREC was delighted to support the University of Bradford with their procurement of Spot - aka 'BD25.' We are looking forward to following and supporting the University with the many exciting projects that have previously been inaccessible without the capabilities of their dog."  

Lyn Wilson, Head of Research and Climate Change, Historic Environment Scotland, pictured below, said: "It's been a fantastic opportunity to see all the new equipment and facilities. For us, it's been really interesting to see all the new immersive technology that the AHRC investment has allowed Bradford to purchase. At Historic Environment Scotland, we have purchased some similar equipment and we're really looking forward to seeing how we can work together and collaborate. 

"We have a lot of similar datasets that are complementary. Bradford has created a 3D model of Saltaire, the UNESCO World Heritage site, and Historic Environment Scotland has created a similar 3D model of New Lanark, which gained World Heritage status at the same time as Saltaire. There are a lot of similarities between those two places so we really hope we can tell some stories and engage communities to share this information with each other."

Historic Environment Scotland

Anchi Becker, from Seattle, USA, is studying for an MA in Human Osteology and Palaeopathology at Bradford and has been using some of the new equipment, including the Cone Beam and micro CT scanners. 

She said: "When I was choosing where to study, I was really excited by the prospect of using these instruments at Bradford. My research looks inside human bones and when studying bones you want to cause as little damage as possible. Having instruments that can penetrate and allow you to see the structure inside the bones without causing physical damage is really beneficial."

Carina Phillips, Head of Museum Collections at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “It’s amazing. It’s inspirational. The scanning equipment and the Biological Anthropology Research Centre (BARC) Imaging Bones from Digitised Diseases to CapCo are very inspiring. We will look at how we can collaborate with Bradford again.”

Dr Simon Mays, Senior Human Skeletal Biologist from Historic England, highlighted the CT scanners section of the tour.

He said: “The real reason I have come here is to see the CT scanners. The large number of skeletal collections the University of Bradford has is key to teaching students. It’s key to the success of Bradford as a teaching centre for human remains – they have loads of kit.

“I have been working in human remains for 35 years and Bradford, in a way, was where it started.”

School of Archaeology

School of Archaeology

School of Archaeology

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