Google teams up with CyArk to Preserve Endangered Wonders of the World


Google is working with tech nonprofit CyArk in preserving the world’s wonders in virtual reality.

In a joint effort called Open Heritage, Google teams up with tech nonprofit CyArk to provide the public with virtual reality (VR) access to the world’s endangered historical sites. CyArk, a 3D laser scanning nonprofit is responsible for scanning the historical monuments, preserving them as 3D models, while Google hosts the public’s access to CyArk’s digital library.

Starting April 16, 2017, the public can now virtually tour the world’s endangered wonders in Google’s Open Heritage site with the use of computers, mobile devices or VR headsets.

Sites Available for Touring

Open Heritage has numerous 3D models and expedition overviews available for viewing. To date, visitors can explore stories from more than 25 iconic sites, across 18 countries.

Just some of the sites viewers can virtually explore are Eim Ya Kyaung, a Buddhist monument in Bagan, Myanmar now closed to the public because of a 2016 earthquake and the Chichen Itza, the ancient Mayan metropolis in Mexico.

Numerous historical sites in Open Heritage have 3D models that allow virtual visitors to inspect the monuments from every angle using Google’s Poly 3D viewer. With the help of Google’s Cloud Platform, everyone can apply to download the data. They can also download Open Heritage’s free app for iOS or Android.

Heritage Preservation through Digital Recreation

The story of Open Heritage began way before Google conceptualized it. It started with CyArk’s founder Ben Kacyra.

Ben Kacyra founded CyArk after watching footage of Talibans destroying 1,500-year-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.  As one of the creators of the world’s first 3D scanner, Kacyra realized that he can use his technology to digitally preserve monuments under threat from natural disasters, human conflict and other factors.

Under CyArk, he then started creating the world’s largest and most detailed 3D archive of the world’s endangered wonders.

With the improvement of the 3D scanning technologies, CyArk captures monuments in fuller detail, including color and texture of surfaces. The organization’s laser scanners have millimeter precision, allowing the detailed scans to be used for identifying damaged areas and restoration efforts.

Tech Used in Digital Preservation

There are numerous tools used in digital preservation. Just some of the tools CyArk uses are

3D laser scanning, photogrammetry, and stereoscopic 360 imagery.

Three-dimensional laser scans digitally capture the surface and dimensions of objects in a non-destructive way. CyArk utilizes scanners for creating “point clouds” to document the exact shape and size of a monument. Scans are registered to one another to create a complete 3D point cloud.

Photogrammetry uses images to survey, map and measure the size and distance of objects. CyArk takes overlapping images which are then brought together to create a 3D photo-textured model.

Stereoscopic 360 imagery uses panoramic photography to allow for immersive 360-degree views of a monument. Multiple images are taken from a single site coming from different angles and are then stitched together to create a single 360 image.

There are more technologies used in the digital preservation of the world’s heritage sites. With CyArk’s mission to make historical sites available to future generations and Google Arts and Culture’s aim to make art more accessible, the outlook for these technologies and the digital preservation of sites looks bright.

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