CyArk Wants to Digitally Preserve 500 Heritage Sites In Just Five YearsJamie Condliffe10/21/13 4:20pmFiled to: archaeologydigital preservationcyarkcyark 500laser imagingimagingphysicsscienceengineering117EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkImagine creating a 3D digital archive of 500 of the world’s most at-risk heritage sites, preserved in virtual reality so that future generations can explore them in detail for centuries to come. That’s exactly what the CyArk 500 Challenge hopes to achieve—and it’s set itself the ambitious target of doing it in just five years.Ancient OriginsThe brainchild of Ben Kacyra, an Iraqi-born engineer and entrepreneur, the project, which will officially launch at a conference in London on Monday 22 October, aims to digitize the world’s most significant physical heritage sites. “I grew up in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, and when I was a little child my father would take me by the hand to the Gates of of Nineveh,” Kacyra explained to Gizmodo. “When the Taliban dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhas in 2001, I realized the same thing could happen to Nineveh—or any other heritage site. And it needn’t be destruction by man, but by natural disasters or erosion.” That was enough to convince him to strike out and start preserving these ancient sites in glorious 3D detail.AdvertisementFortunately, he was well-placed to do so. Kacyra, with a background in design, engineering and construction, developed some of the first portable 3D laser-scanning systems with his company, Cyra Technologies, back in 1993. Born out of a need to automate measurement for complex construction projects, they used time-of-flight scanning: the device shoots out a laser pulse and measures the time it takes for it to travel to a surface, bounce off it, and return to the scanner. By scanning in all directions, collecting millions of measurements, it’s possible to generate renderings of entire spaces which are accurate to within millimeters. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t just used for construction, but also became popular in the film and video game industries.With that knowledge and technical ability in place, Kacyra set up CyArk in 2003 with his wife, Barbara, to digitally preserve cultural heritage sites. Ten years on, and the organization has successfully captured over 100 sites, including the cave dwellings of the Anasazi people in Colorado, Egyptian tombs, the ruins of Pompeii, the Mayan temples in Guatemala, the Tutuveni Hopi Petroglyphs and the Hindu temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.AdvertisementTheir model sees them build partnerships with other parties interested in acquiring the data—from universities to UNESCO. CyArk then provides the hardware, while the partners provide the manpower.The Future of the PastOver the last ten years, the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. “The original systems we big hunks of things that had to be lugged in the field, plus they were slow and expensive,” explains Kacyra. “Now they’re compact, much faster, higher resolution, and cheaper.” But a decade doesn't just bring incremental changes—it brings complete paradigm shifts, too.So, while the bulk of CyArk’s work uses engineering-grade scanners that cost around $60,000, they can now complement those techniques with others, too: small-scale, near-field imaging which uses technology similar to Kinect to acquire some data more cheaply, or aerial Lidar data to acquire data from above. It’s even honing laser systems to work better underwater, so it can even image shipwrecks and the like. You can read more about the advanced technology on Gizmodo.