The project aims to streamline archaeological surveys on cultivated land.

The utilization of geo-radar technology to discover cultural monuments underground has proven to be an effective method, and the NIKU has worked continuously on developing this research method in the field, along with several partners, over the past ten years.

Among other finds, geo-radar surveys led to discoveries of burial mounds, Viking ships, longhouses, and other structures from the Iron Age and Viking Age.

In a new collaboration with AutoAgri, which produces self-driving vehicles for agriculture, the NIKU wants to develop a so-called autonomous, self-driving geo-radar vehicle.

"Mapping with geo-radar technology is currently carried out with all-terrain vehicles with a driver. It places great demands on accurate driving patterns and monitoring of geo-radar measurements over many hours in the field. 

"A self-driving functionality based on GPS navigation would provide high precision for data collection and remove the driver from the equation," Knut Paasche, head of digital archeology at the NIKU, said.

"Archaeologists are still a necessary part of the investigations. But instead of driving the tractor around themselves, they can monitor it from the sidelines while continuously processing and interpreting the results. This can make us more efficient at the same time as we get better archaeological results," Paasche explained, according to the NIKU website.

Currently, geo-radar surveys are carried out in crewed vehicles. Photo: NIKU

First prototype already tested

Ole Svendgård in AutoAgri believes that the new self-driving geo-radar vehicles will also be useful in connection with large infrastructure projects, such as the construction of roads and railways.

"We had the first full-scale prototype ready in 2021 and have tested it with good results. The next step is to develop a functionality adapted to different equipment and use," Svendgård said.

The vehicles worked on are designed to replace traditional diesel-powered tractors and will not be dependent on a driver. They are also electric and help reduce climate emissions and remove noise.

The geo-radar will be supplied by NIKU's partner Guideline Geo/MALÅ, which is based in Umeå in northern Sweden.

"We have used geo-radars from MALÅ for many years and are very happy that MALÅ is following us through this project as well. We are now getting the most modern ground-penetrating radar system. 

"It will be incredibly exciting to see the results we can achieve with this equipment," Erich Nau, NIKU's project manager for the development of the new system, stated.

Ready for use in 2023?

During the autumn and winter of 2022, the NIKU and AutoAgri will work on adapting the vehicle and the geo-radar, as well as adjusting the methodology and software so that it is well suited for archaeological geophysics.

"The goal is that the completely newly developed system will come into operation already during the 2023 field season," Paasche pointed out.

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