Google partnered with CyArk, a non-profit 3D laser scanning organization, to help preserve historic sites around the world that are at risk of irreversible damage or total erasure due to human conflicts and natural disasters. The joint effort, called Open Heritage project, will use CyArk's laser scanning technology to capture all the relevant data in a historical site necessary to recreate it virtually, so that it can be preserved and explored online, either on a computer, through of a mobile device, or with a virtual reality helmet.
"With modern technology, we can capture these monuments in more detail than ever, including the color and texture of surfaces along with the geometry captured by laser scanners with pinpoint accuracy in 3D," Chance Coughenour, digital archaeologist and program manager from 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."
CyArk, a non-profit organization based in Oakland, California, was founded in 2003 as a cultural and humanitarian medium for technology that creator Ben Kacyra developed as a co-founder and CEO of Cyra Technologies, a Bay Area company that Makes a laser mapping, modeling and CAD product used by architects, engineers and construction companies. Kacyra says he was inspired to create CyArk using Cyra's laser mapping technology after seeing the Taliban destroy 1,500-year-old Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2001. It's that kind of destruction of ancient culture that worries Kacyra , and CyArk's mission is to capture historical monuments and sites before a similar type of tragedy occurs.
One such site is the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple in Bagan, Myanmar, which was damaged during an earthquake in 2016. CyArk managed to laser map the site before the disaster, and now an interactive 3D tour of the temple serves as one of the experiences is launched together with Google with the Open Heritage initiative. Next to the temple of Ananda Ok Kyuang are 24 other locations in 18 countries around the world. Other places include the Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria and the ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico.
"For many of the sites, we also developed intricate 3D models that allow you to inspect from all angles, using the new Google Poly 3D viewer in Google Arts & Culture," writes Coughenour. "Over the past seven years, we have partnered with 1,500 museums in more than 70 countries to present their collections online and put more of the world culture at their fingertips.This project marks a new chapter for Google Arts & Culture, as it is the first time we put 3D heritage sites on the platform. "
Google also plans to release the source data of the models created by CyArk. Researchers and other interested parties may request to download data to create applications or analyze them to help preserve and restore monuments and real-life sites. The Open Heritage models will be available online and in the Google Arts and Culture mobile apps for iOS and Android. These mobile applications will also support virtual reality tours through Google's Daydream platform.