Google and a 3D laser scanning nonprofit California-based, CyArk are coming together to preserve man-made heritage across the world. The joint effort, called the Open Heritage project, will choose the preserve historical sites around the world that are at risk of irreversible damage or total erasure due to human conflict and natural disasters. With CyArk’s laser-scanning technology, all the relevant data at a historical site needed to re-create it virtually, will be captured. This in turn can be explored online either on a computer, through a mobile device, or while wearing a virtual reality headset.
“With modern technology, we can capture these monuments in fuller detail than ever before, including the color and texture of surfaces alongside the geometry captured by the laser scanners with millimeter precision in 3D,” Chance Coughenour, a digital archaeologist and program manager with the Google Arts and Culture division, said in a press release. “These detailed scans can also be used to identify areas of damage and assist restoration efforts.”
Google Arts & Culture, dedicated to help preserve and make accessible art from around the world, first went live back in 2011. It started a focus on partnering with museums to bring art works online alongside Street View-style walk-throughs of famous museums. It has since expanded its focus to many different types of art and culture, as well as interactive media like VR tours and other educational tools.
It’s that type of destruction of ancient culture that all are concerned about. CyArk’s mission is to capture historical monuments and sites before they befall a similar type of tragedy. The company does so by using more advanced versions of the original laser-scanning system as well as high-resolution photography captured by drones and DSLR cameras.
One such site is the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple in Bagan, Myanmar, which suffered damage during an earthquake in 2016. Fortunately, CyArk had managed to laser map the site prior to the disaster, and now an interactive 3D tour through the temple serves as one of the experiences it’s launching with alongside Google with the Open Heritage initiative. Additionally, there 24 other locations from 18 countries around the world.
“For many of the sites, we also developed intricate 3D models that allow you to inspect from every angle, using the new Google Poly 3D viewer on Google Arts & Culture,” writes Coughenour. “Over the past seven years, we’ve partnered with 1,500 museums from over 70 countries to bring their collections online and put more of the world’s culture at your fingertips. This project marks a new chapter for Google Arts & Culture, as it is the first time we’re putting 3D heritage sites on the platform.”