UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 04 Spring 16 Library
A view of the scan data of the exterior of the McCormick Observatory captured by Will Rourk with the FARO Focus 3D Laser Scanner

Capturing a Cultural Heritage in 3D

Perhaps the most cutting edge thing here is that a LIBRARY is doing this.
Will Rourk

Libraries are well known for collecting and storing information, but UVA Library Research is taking these processes to brand new heights. In fact, they are taking it somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 feet above ground with a groundbreaking data gathering project that utilizes high end laser scanning equipment to measure the inside and outside of structures. These efforts yield detailed 3D images that offer treasure troves of cultural heritage data.

“Perhaps the most cutting edge thing here is that a LIBRARY is doing this,” says Will Rourk of UVA Library Research. “I can’t think of another library in the world that is doing this kind of data collection.” The prototype subject for the project is the McCormick Observatory, where Rourk and a team that includes Arin Bennett, also of Library Research, and Shayne Brandon and Lauren Massari of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) to use quad copters equipped with 4K cameras. They then use a technique called Photogrammetry, which creates 3D images from 2D pictures. A word of warning here - drone piloting is an increasingly complicated undertaking these days, and IATH cautions that anyone who is going to attempt to replicate these efforts on Grounds only do so after obtaining proper clearances from authorities on Grounds and from the FAA.IATH would like to assist departments with this process.

Explore the project in depth...

Meanwhile, back on the ground, Rourk employs an industry standard FARO Focus 3D laser scanner that scans surfaces, forming a point in 3D space each time it shifts. The combination of these tools is creating an invaluable stockpile of usable data for scholars, architects and engineers at UVA and around the world. “So if a catastrophic event like an earthquake were ever to take down all the buildings on the top of Jefferson Mountain,” Rourk said, “we could now rebuild them using some of the data we have captured.” That data, if all goes as planned, will ultimately be available to scholars around the world. McCormick Observatory is only one building in many of our historic structures that have been digitally documented at UVA.  Others sites already documented include sites at the Rotunda such as the Chemical Hearth, the Eastern cistern and the copper top roof.  These details and many more continue to be documented with scannagrametric technologies inside and outside the Academical Village.  “Being able to bring cultural heritage data on the level of architectural history at our own World Heritage Site is pretty exciting and crucial.”

A view of the scan data of the interior of the McCormick Observatory captured by Will Rourk with the FARO Focus 3D Laser Scanner
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