Google Utilises 3D Scanning to Preserve Historic Monuments

World heritage sites are being destroyed at an alarming rate, but two american companies are using 3D scanning to capture them digitally. Web search giant Google has teamed up with non-profit CyArk to digitally preserve many of the world’s ancient monuments for generations to come. Using laser scanning, drone imaging, structured light scanning and photogrammetry, CyArk has developed intricate digital 3D images of monuments such as Chichen Itza in Mexico, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Mount Rushmore in the USA in an attempt to mitigate potential damage to the monuments from natural disasters. Google is now allowing the general public to access these models through its Arts & Culture platform. People can experience the monuments on their phone, computer or through Google’s VR platforms.

Whilst CyArk is providing the technology and know-how when it comes to scanning the heritage sites, Google has offered its marketing clout and powerful cloud computing platform, allowing the project to quickly and efficiently process and transmit the reams of data involved in such colossal scanning tasks.

The aim of the project is to create high-quality, accurate imagery of historic relics that are at risk of being damaged and destroyed over time by inclement weather, natural disasters and war. In 2016 a strong earthquake in Myanmar damaged a number of the nation’s ancient temples. Luckily CyArk had scanned some of the structures, both inside and outside, before the earthquake. This allowed them to create accurate 3D models of the damaged temples for future archaeologists to examine. CyArk’s data could also be used in the future to restore damaged monuments.

CyArk was started in 2003 by Iraqi expatriate Ben Kacyra who was concerned about the multitudes of cultural artefacts in Iraq which were at risk of being lost to the war starting there at the time. The project prioritises architecture which is particularly at risk due to looting and military damage, as well as those monuments in areas at risk of natural disaster, such as Mesa Verde in Colorado and Pompeii in Italy.

Each 3D model is made up of millions of data points gathered using portable laser scanners, LiDAR and heavy-lift drones. This data is then processed by Google into a more consumer-friendly format, but the raw data can be requested by academics and researchers for further study as technologies and methods of information extraction progress.

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