California based CyArk is another organization which aims to preserve 500 historical sites by 2020. (Bloomberg)
California based CyArk is another organization which aims to preserve 500 historical sites by 2020. (Bloomberg)

How emerging tech is being used to preserve at-risk art and monument

  • Bhubaneswar-based Centurion University has showed the way by taking up preservation of tribal art and culture from Odisha in 3D
  • The artefacts that have been preserved include textile, weapons, household objects, agricultural tools, musical instruments and shrine crafts

NEW DELHI : With more tribal societies getting absorbed by urbanisation, the fear of losing art and culture spanning several centuries and the need to preserve them has also grown.

While attempts to preserve them in image format have been underway, a 2-dimensional image often misses out on the finer intricacies of these traditional art forms. Bhubaneswar-based Centurion University has showed the way by taking up preservation of tribal art and culture from Odisha in 3D.

The university has entrusted one of their vocational institutes, Gram Tarang, that has also been working with farmers on smart farming methods in Odisha, for this initiative and so far more than 4,000 artefacts belonging to five of the 62 tribes inhabiting various parts of Odisha have already been preserved in 3D digital format with interactive audio and visuals.

These are available online and can be accessed by scholars and researchers working on tribal art and history via Oculus virtual reality headsets.

The artefacts that have been preserved include textile, weapons, household objects, agricultural tools, musical instruments and shrine crafts.

"We felt that in another 20 to 30 years all the tribal heritage will be lost. We felt this was the time to protect them or we would lose them forever," said Abhi Mitra, a game programmer at Gram Tarang Technologies.

Mitra and his team used Unity Technologies' 2D-3D software for animation, rendering and simulation and game engine for AR and VR. They worked closely with the tribals and intend to preserve art of more such communities in 3D and VR.

Mitra points out, applications like Unity's don't involve huge amount of programming and are easier to use. Users can get all the courses online for free. The main work is basically making the environment and artwork realistic. This will also enable reproducing the artwork using 3D printing.

Gram Tarang's efforts to preserve art and culture in 3D using VR resonates with the wider call for using new forms of technologies like AR, VR, AI (artificial intelligence) and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) to protect art and monuments that are facing the risk of getting lost over time or destruction due to religious fanatism, war, civil unrest, and natural calamities.

For instance, a Paris company Iconem, is working on building 3D digital models of historic landmarks. Founded by French architect Yves Ubelmann, who on a visit to Afghanistan in 2010 came across an old village with mud homes. Two years later, during a return visit, Ubelmann was shocked to find the entire village wiped out by the conflict in the region.

Ubelmann and his team are using mini drones with cameras to capture thousands of images of at risk landmarks in 20 countries. So far they have covered the ruins of Pompeii in Italy, ancient Assyrian cities in Iraq, the remains of third-century Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan, desert city of Palmyra in Syria and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

In India, Iconem was involved in the digitisation in 3D of the 16th-century necropolises at the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park in Hyderabad.

Some of these historical sites are located in conflicted regions and accessing them on foot is unsafe. A case in point is Palmyra, which is infested with landmines.

Using modeling algorithms and AI solutions, Iconem first stitches the thousands of photos captured by drone cameras to create a high-resolution 3D model of the landmark which is then used by experts at organisations such as UNESCO to assess the damage.

According to reports, Iconem’s 3D models are so detailed that they can help stop archeological plunder in Syria by revealing illegal tunnels used to smuggle the artefacts from these sites to the black market. Iconem's works are accessible in AR to the public.

California based CyArk is another organization which aims to preserve 500 historical sites by 2020.

In addition to working on Bagan temple complex in Myanmar which was destroyed by an earthquake, Neolithic rock paintings dating back to 9000BCE in a conflicted region of Somalia, CyArk is also working on some Indian sites like Gateway of India.

After initial surveys using drones, a terrestrial laser scanning known as LIDAR was carried out to build a 3D model of the Mumbai based monument. The model is then used as a baseline to monitor the building's surface for any changes in its condition. This will come in handy during formulation of conservation plans for buildings of historical importance.

Some of the preserved landmarks are available to the public as VR experiences.

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