Tech focus: CyArk & Seagate preserves world heritage sites

CyArk & Seagate are collaborating to preserve world heritage sites in the digital realm for the benefit of posterity.

I came across a meaningful project this week – an international non-profit organisation named CyArk is actively capturing digital images and physical dimensions of historical sites and structures to create photorealistic 3D models for archival.

Editor’s note:

I’m really happy that such meaningful work is being carried out by organisations such as CyArk, founded by Iraqi civil engineer Ben Kacyra.

It is a great example of how technology is being harnessed in a positive way for the benefit of humanity.

It’s also fantastic that CyArk enjoys recognition and support from the public and large corporations such as Seagate, Google and Autodesk.


This is so that future generations can reference these resources even if the actual archeological sites are damaged – through war, natural disasters, or age – or completely destroyed.

They have been at it since 2003 and are supported by corporations such as Seagate which began their partnership with CyArk in 2015 by providing its data storage solutions both in the field and in the office.

Since 2003, CyArk has amassed high-tech digital records of over 200 heritage sites in 40 countries, including Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bagan in Myanmar and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

In recent years, CyArk has upped the ante by capturing additional photos that can be used to render interactive virtual reality (VR) content for users to enjoy an immersive experience when “visiting” these historical sites in the virtual realm.

Data and images from the field capture at each historical site are turned into photo-real 3D models for future generations of students, tourists and cultural heritage enthusiasts to experience the site virtually anytime and anywhere.

I had the opportunity to check out their current project in Ayutthaya, Thailand during a demo cum briefing they gave me in Singapore.

By wearing an Oculus Rift VR headset, I could view and walk around the Wat Phra Si San Phet temple (both inside and outside) in Ayutthaya as if I was physically there.

The images and rendering were of such high resolution and fidelity that it was as if I was really viewing the actual physical buildings, walls and artifacts in front of me and around me.

The only aspect missing was that I could not physically touch and feel what I was seeing through the VR headset.

There is a price for making such a realistic experience a reality.

When I asked the folks at CyArk about the amount of data generated to make the photo-realism possible, Anthony Fassero (Vice President of Capture and Production, CyArk) informed me that the raw data generated from capturing photos and recording laser measurement scans easily chalks up more than 200GB of storage.

This varies depending on the size and complexity of the site being scanned and archived.

With the introduction of VR, the raw data easily increases more than tenfold. In the case of Wat Phra Si San Phet, Christopher Dang (Field Director, CyArk) tells me that the raw data ballooned to approximately 2.7TB.

Mind you – that’s only for the raw data. After processing and merging the raw data, the eventual content increases another three to four times.

In the meantime, the data is archived a few times during the various stages of processing.

For example, the raw data is archived before any processing is initiated so that in the future, when new technologies and techniques become available, these can be applied to the raw data to generate better output content, compared to what is possible with current technologies and techniques.

“We are at a pivotal point in history in which data capture, storage and processing technology are all advanced enough to digitally preserve some of our world’s most unique and historically significant locations. This is culturally important work that will enable all sorts of new possibilities for future generations. We are excited to partner with CyArk again this year to initiate their very first project in Thailand and participate in this journey of cultural preservation,” said Tim Bucher, senior vice president, consumer solutions group at Seagate Technology.

So not surprisingly, data storage is a large and crucial aspect of the entire project – from data capture in the field, to intermediate archivals, data access during processing.

It’s not just the sheer size of data that needs to be stored that’s challenging.

In the field, data storage devices need to be ruggedised to survive the elements and accidental physical mishandling.

The access speeds during processing needs to be quick.

And with such huge amounts of data, the transfer speeds of the storage media needs to be fast – otherwise you’ll be spending your day waiting just for a copy to be sent from one storage drive to another.

CyArk reminds me of other projects that I’ve encountered in the past, attempting to capture and preserve the faces and status of people and places around the world.

One such endeavour was by photographer Stefan Chow that visited 4 continents to capture 3D imageries of people and places across 12 countries.

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