Wednesday, February 8, 2012

CyArk 3D Heritage Archive

As many of you already know and have mentioned, we are lucky to be studying creativity in an age when many of the world's brightest minds are featured in one collective place: While TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) itself as an organization is probably worth studying from a creative standpoint, I would like to focus my attention on a specific project that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago while on which has stuck with me.
CyArk stands for Cyber Archive. According to its website, CyArk is a non profit organization "with the mission of: digitally preserving cultural heritage sites through collecting, archiving and providing open access to data created by laser scanning, digital modeling, and other state-of-the-art technologies." Essentially, the organization uses surveying, photography and laser technology to digitally preserve historical sites that are at risk of being destroyed physically by nature (erosion, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) and/or humankind (war, tourism, urbanization, etc.).

The process for preservation is summarized neatly in this fun little graphic from the CyArk website:
First, sites are selected based on many factors including cultural significance and what the specific needs of that site are. Second, data is collected through three methods: surveying, photographing and scanning. The scanning is particularly interesting: laser beams are sent out which bounce off of a physical surface and upon their return (based on the length of the beam's flight) the scanner is able to calculate x, y and z coordinates. These scans result in millions of 3D points (with a 2-3 millimeter accuracy) that are used to create 3D images which are then photo-textured. Finally, models are developed to put in the archives and share with the public.

I feel as though it would be premature to discuss the specific creative projects that CyArk is working on right now without first mentioning Ben Kacyra who founded the organization with his wife Barbara. With my understanding of creativity thus far, I would argue that Kacyra is a Creative. His drive and passion first led him to inventing the first portable laser scanner called the Cyrax. The Cyrax caused a paradigm shift in the fields of architecture and engineering. However, the Cyrax and Kacyra's company, Cyra Technologies, was purchased by Leica Geosystems in 2000 and around ten years later Kacyra started his CyArk project. As with most creativity, many aspects of this project are circumstantial: CyArk is able to exist because of the technological advancements made by Kacyra himself and others who have provided him with the ability to digitally capture the physical. Additionally, Kacyra's personal motivation to preserve history stem first, from his childhood visits to the ruins of the ancient city of Nineveh near his home town of Mosul in Iraq and second, from the devestation he felt when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.

Archeologists, historians, anthropologists and scholars from various fields have all been captivated by CyArk. Currently, CyArk is able to function due to the financial investment made by Kacyra after selling Cyra Technologies and the investments made by numerous global partners including heritage authorities, universities, foundations, corporations, and service providers. The organization is currently challenging itself to digitally preserve 500 sites in 5 years. In addition to challenging itself in the actual capturing of sites and creating of models, CyArk is creating ways to engage the global public. Other than archiving all of this digital information, CyArk has created multiple educational tools which teachers of various academic levels can use for free. The CyArk website is easy to use and encourages individuals to participate in online cultural tourism as well as in the project itself as donors, volunteers, and/or partners. Additionally, the organization has stayed up to date with current technological trends and has created mobile apps.

I think my personal interest in memoir is what drew me to this project. I believe in capturing the wisdom of those around us in words and Kacyra is able to capture that wisdom in images. In his words, "Our heritage is much more than our collective memory -- it's our collective treasure. We owe it to our children, our grandchildren and the generations we will never meet to keep it safe and to pass it along."

3D point cloud of a monument from Easter Island

*All of my pictures, quotes and information have come from the CyArk and TED websites. I have posted the TED video link here (as well as the link to CyArk) and although many of the points made in this blog entry are made in the video, Kacyra has some incredible stories to tell that I encourage everyone to listen to.

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