Nov 19, 2015 | By Benedict

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD have developed CultLab3D: a streamlined 3D scanning system for the quick and easy digitization of 3D objects. The project aims to facilitate the mass digitization, annotation and storage of historical artifacts in museums and other places of preservation.

Digital preservation is one of the most important methods of sustaining our cultural history. Without it, there would be no way to safeguard precious historical texts, artifacts and information. Before the mass digitization of historical texts through 2D scanning, a simple accident or theft could have eradicated a piece of history forever. Several books of the Christian Bible, for instance, have been simply lost to time, as all physical copies of the “Book of the Battles of Yahweh” and the “Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah” were destroyed. Homer’s Margites, preceding the Iliad and the Odyssey, has been obliterated from history in a similar manner, as the few existing copies of the epic poem perished with Ancient Greece itself. Thankfully, if a worthy book is discovered today, it can theoretically remain discoverable for all time. This is because digital preservation enables the digital archiving of written texts, as well as the easy duplication of those digital files. Even if the British Library were to burn down overnight, the majority of its contents would at least be digitally preserved. Digital preservation of texts is one thing, but the preservation of physical artifacts is quite another. Think about the following: How does a photograph of the Rosetta Stone compare to the object itself, in terms of historical value? Although the reasons are difficult to explain, the answer is obvious: the unique object itself has an infinitely superior intrinsic historical value than the mere photo. It is the Rosetta Stone. Though incredibly valuable in its own way, the digital preservation of the Rosetta Stone through photography is somehow less reassuring than the digital preservation of historical texts.

Although it is clear that there is no real substitute for an authentic historical artifact, there is still an incredibly important need to realize their digital preservation. Earlier this year, Islamic State jihadis destroyed a 2,000 year old statue of a lion in the Syrian city of Palmyra. The 15 ton artifact is now lost to history forever. Despite stringent security measures and physical preservation techniques, some day in the perhaps far distant future, every object in the Smithsonian, Guggenheim, Louvre and British Museum will perish in its own way. It is therefore imperative that something should be done to preserve those historical artifacts, by whatever means possible.

Fraunhofer IGD, a world leading institute for applied research in Visual Computing, understand the importance of digitally preserving historical artifacts, and have produced a highly effective method for doing so. They developed the CultLab3D, a “pipeline” 3D scanning system for the quick and easy 3D scanning of objects, mainly intended for use by museums. Unlike other 3D scanners, which require the object to be placed on a platform and spin several times on its axis as lasers capture its data, Fraunhofer IGD's method functions more like a conveyor belt--a 6 meter long conveyor belt, to be precise.

Any object, measuring up to 60cm wide and 60cm tall, and weighing no more than 50kg, can be loaded onto the belt, which will then automatically move towards a pair of large concentric imaging arcs which scan the object from all angles. One arc consists of nine cameras, while the other projects nine high quality ring lights. In total, the arcs take over 7,000 images to make up the 3D model. Once the object has finished its conveyor belt course, a robotic arm uses a second, more detailed 3D scanner to fill in whatever gaps are missing. In just ten minutes, the CultLab3D scanning system can procure a complete 3D scan of a physical object with millimeter accuracy at a significantly reduced cost compared to traditional 3D scanning methods. Because it can be carried out on-site, it is up to 30 times cheaper. This fully automated ten minute period includes full geometry and texture capture, as well as scale and color calibration.

Quite significantly, the virtual model is not just an exact copy in terms of appearance, but its surface actually absorbs and reflects light in the same manner as the original. "Reflective qualities refer to a material's optical qualities", explained Pedro Santos, Head of Competence Center 'Cultural Heritage Digitization' at Fraunhofer IGD. "If you hold a mineral that's illuminated from the right and look at a specific point on its surface, you'll see a red shimmer. If you move the light source, it looks blue. A photo of this surface is not enough, you need every possible combination of light incidents and perspectives." Clearly, no mere photograph of a historical object could ever capture the information allowed by 3D scanning.

These 3D scans can then be archived, and put to whatever future use the museum or curator sees fit. Museums could choose to upload the 3D models to their website, allowing remote viewing of important historical artifacts. The high quality 3D scans could even be used to produce detailed 3D printed replicas of historical artifacts—no substitute for authenticity, but a highly worthwhile consolation when objects are lost or destroyed.  “Cultural artifacts are all different, so there is not the scanning technology for each material,” explained Santos. “We developed a multi-modular scanning system where the curator will only once place an artifact on the tablet which will be pulled through the conveyer belt system, and you have a digitized model.”

Designers of the 3D scanning system at the Fraunhofer IGD plan to offer their product to existing digitization service providers, as well as museums and other interested parties. “The main exploitation plan for CultLab3D is that service providers who already offer digitization services, buy the scanning pipeline from the pipeline manufacturer and establish digitization contracts with museums to scan a certain collection at a specific cost and operate the pipeline at the museum premises for a specific period of time, annotating and storing the data according to the requirements of the museum,” explained Santos.

A prototype version of the 3D scanning system was successfully demonstrated at the Digital Heritage 2015 conference in Granada, which took place between September 28th and October 2nd, and commercialization of part or all of the 3D scanning system will take place next year. Fraunhofer IGD has also released plans to adapt the CultLab3D's technology for small, flying robots that could capture high-quality scans of larger objects, and even historical architecture or buildings.

The digital preservation of historical artifacts via 3D scanning is undoubtedly a worthwhile endeavor, but the process also brings up interesting philosophical questions surrounding the concept of authenticity. If we will soon be able to view 3D models of all of the world’s historical artifacts in perfect detail on our computer screens, will our motivation to see the real objects in museums diminish? Only time will tell.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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Rob Jansen wrote at 11/20/2015 7:07:00 AM:

Some of these artifacts are thousands of years old ans while the may have a scratch or a piece broken off, they still stand as valuable artifacts. I am curious to see what will happen to the digital archives of these artifacts in a few hunderds of years...

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