Google is looking to create digital backups of every book on the planet, so why not create digital backups of the real world? That’s exactly what a non-profit organization in doing, using laser scanners to develop minutely-detailed 3D models of historical sites.
On Monday, CyArk conducted a press conference in the Tower of London to present its project, aimed at digitally preserving 500 heritage sites within five years. About a hundred have already been captured, and a fund has been launched to back the project. Nearly three dozen countries sent representatives to the press event, including ambassadors, government officials, and corporate executives.
Over 100 Models
The company has already created over 100 3D models of various statues, Mount Rushmore, Texas-based Spanish missions, Tudor Place, the home of George Washington’s family, and Roman ruins. In the CyArk 500 Challenge, sites can be nominated for digital preservation by individuals and governments through the organization’s Web site, and an international advisory council of experts in historical heritage will make the final decisions.
The next round of sites to be captured include Pompeii, Babylon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Titanic, the Sydney Opera House, and the Tower of London.
CyArk co-founder Ben Kacyra said in a statement that the organization’s mission is “to create a 3D-digital library of the world’s most important heritage sites.” He added that digital preservation “will ensure that these treasures are available for appreciation and study for years to come.” The organization’s executive director said that the overall goal is nothing less than building “the Alexandria Library of 3D-heritage data.”
If a civilization cannot physically save something, said his wife and co-founder Barbara Kacyra, “your next best thing is to digitally preserve it.”
Destruction All the Time
The technology used, including 3D-laser scanning, radar and related technologies for capturing reality, allows the sites to be rendered within 2-6mm, resulting in as much as 10 terabytes of data for every project. The data is stored in information vendor and CyArk backer Iron Mountain’s bunker in western Pennsylania. Even if the sites are maintained, CyArk sees its digital models as helping conservators to manage and preserve a given location. As an example, a tomb complex in Uganda was restored following a fire because of CyArk’s 3D-digital model.
CyArk was started, the founders said, as a reaction to the Taliban’s destruction of the Afghan Buddha statues in 2001. A senior preservationist with CyArk, Gustavo Araoz, told news media that similar kinds of historical destruction are happening all the time, but less visibly and at a much slower pace.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, told us that this kind of effort can be “tremendous for people who want to experience” these sites but who could not do so otherwise. Making sure that the Roman Coliseum can always be rebuilt, he said, provides a certain assurance for the culture.