Google Helps Preserve Endangered Historical Sites in VR

Google assists CyArk in saving our heritage by preserving the wonders of the world in VR.

In an effort to help capture and preserve endangered historical sites around the world for future generations to enjoy, Google has teamed up with 3D laser-scanning non-profit CyArk to virtually catalogue the world’s most at-risk historical wonders.

Referred to as the Open Heritage project, the operation had CyArk utilize their advanced 3D laser-scanning technology to record critical data at important sites and render the information into a detailed VR recreation. Texture, color, geometry, all aspects of the designated location are replicated with stunning accuracy at “millimeter” precision.

“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,” said Chance Coughenour, a digital archaeologist and program manager with the Google Arts and Culture division, in a press release. “These detailed scans can also be used to identify areas of damage and assist restoration efforts.”

Founded by Ben Kacyra in 2013, CyArk was the result of Kacyra’s passionate reaction to the 2001 destruction of several 1,500 year-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan by Taliban forces. One of the original pioneers in 3D laser-scanning, Ben realized his technology could be used towards immortalizing monuments and other historical sites facing potential destruction by war, tourism, or just good old fashioned mother nature.

One of the most prominent sites being exhibited in the Open Heritage project features the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple in Bagan, Myanmar, a location that sustained heavy damage during an earthquake in 2016. Thankfully, Kacyra and his team at CyArk were able to scan and photograph the area before the natural disaster, rendering it into an interactive 3D tour in which users can now explore inside-and-out via their smartphones, tablets, computers or VR headsets.

However, the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple is just one of 25 other available sites spanning 18 different countries including the historic city of Ayutthaya in Thailand, the Al Azem Palace in Damascus, Syria, and my personal favorite, the Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings in Colorado, U.S.  

Google Arts & Culture has partnered with 1,500 museums spread across 70 different countries throughout its 7 years in operation, bringing some of history’s most prized collections to the internet for everyone to enjoy. Open Heritage is the first time Google will be adding 3D historical sites to Arts & Culture, as well as its first foray into VR content.

Start exploring these gorgeous recreations yourself by visiting the “Open Heritage” project website or by downloading their free app on iOS and Android. You are also free to apply for the data thanks to the Google Cloud Platform.

About the Scout

Kyle Melnick

Kyle is a writer for VRScout also working in new media production. He's also a part-time bounty hunter.

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