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CyArk: digitally preserving and sharing our vulnerable heritage

We’re losing the sites and the stories faster than we can physically preserve them.  Ben Kacyra

Earthquakes and natural disasters are partly to blame.  But human factors–arson, acid rain, urban sprawl, terrorism and war–accelerate destruction of our global historic treasures.

Rather than seeing this as a losing battle, Ben Kacyra, inventor of a groundbreaking 3D scanning system, was determined that the human race ought to know where we came from.  And so the CyArk founding director waged another type of war, leveraging emerging digital tools and an expanding global network to preserve what might otherwise be lost.

Founded in 2003, CyArk (for cyber archive), is an international nonprofit dedicated to enhancing accessibility to and digitally preserving heritage sites for future generations.  The mission: to create a free, 3D online library of the world’s cultural heritage sites before they are lost to natural disasters, destroyed by human aggression or ravaged by the passage of time.

Best experienced on Internet Explorer, the site not only preserves and informs, it presents magical field trips and tours for our students.

As a by-product of this important work, our students can now fly through heritage sites, while learning about history, culture, geography, math, science, current events, art and architecture, technology and computer-aided design. In addition to the impressive 3D representations, projects include media galleries, maps, guides and in-depth context.

The site also suggests a range of emerging career options.

Don’t miss CyArk’s rich interdisciplinary downloadable lesson plan section.

CyArk describes the cutting edge technology used to capture detailed 3D representations of world’s significant cultural heritage sites:

Creating a Point Cloud:  Bouncing laser light off the surfaces, 3D scanners measure millions of points a second, accurate to a few millimeters to create a 3D data set, or point cloud. Colors represent the intensity of reflection from the surface.

Generating a Mesh: Individual data points are joined together via small triangles, connecting each of the dots and forming a wireframe. These triangles are used to form a solid surface from the points, which creates a solid 3D model

Finished Product: The 3D model generated from the point cloud is then colored using photographs taken of the surface of the structure. The result is a photo-real 3D model which can be used to further study the monument and used for conservation and education.

In this TED Talk Ben Kacyra, shares details about the technology behind the process, as well as the back story of how he and his wife Barbara were moved to expand the mission of their foundation to scan, archive and preserve world heritage sites after hearing of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001.

You may also be interested in the Google Cultural Institute.

Thanks to Patricia Sarles for this lead.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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