'BIG3D' project led by Sketchfab receives funding to help digitally document endangered world heritage

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We’re proud to announce our leading role in BIG3D, an exciting and ambitious partnership with Iconem and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (The National Center for Scientific Research or CNRS ) that has received $1.1m in funding from the French Army Department for research and development in the fields of 3D processing and visualisation.

The three-way partnership brings together a wealth of unique skills and experience in an effort to advance global efforts toward the digital documentation of threatened sites of cultural significance.

Today, thousands of historically valuable sites are under threat from many sources: increasing military conflicts; natural disasters (erosion, earthquakes, climate change); human activity (urbanisation, industrial projects.). Unfortunately, due to the scarcity of available public funding, unfortunately most endangered sites are not protected and are quickly deteriorating.

With more than 500 museums and cultural heritage institutions already sharing 3D data with their audiences through Sketchfab, we have become the platform of choice for publishing and accessing this kind of content online. However, as these organisations make use of scanning techniques of increasing precision, they are fast reaching the current limits of what our viewer (and modern web browsers) is capable of.

We want to enable people to publish their content at the highest level of fidelity – hundreds of millions of polygons and huge texture maps – but to do so we’ll need to research and develop new processing methods and display techniques.

As part of BIG3D, Sketchfab will be developing the ability to visualise, browse and display – as never before – the massive amounts of data resulting from research class 3D digitisation efforts.

Other outcomes of the three year long project will include the invention of an evolutionary new 3D file concept and the design of a new system to automatically link relevant metadata to the geographic locations being digitised.

By creating a fast, integrated processing chain from 3D digitisation to online visualisation, the project seeks to remove barriers to the access, dissemination and ultimately use of 3D data of sites that are under threatened or inaccessible.

Thousands of sites of historical and cultural significance are under threat from many sources: an increasing number of military conflicts; natural disaster (erosion, earthquakes, climate change…); human activity (urbanisation, industrial projects.). Due to the scarcity of available international and national funding, unfortunately most endangered sites are not protected from these elements and are very quickly deteriorating.

For several years, the team at Iconem has been travelling the globe visiting some of the most at risk historic sites and, in collaboration with local archaeologists, documenting them in digital 3D. By conducting ground and UAV drone survey imaging and processing this data through sophisticated photogrammetry algorithms they are able to generate highly detailed renditions of huge areas of land.

Iconem’s work – as shared through the Sketchfab platform – demonstrates the value, power and importance of documenting threatened historic sites for future generations to explore. Through the BIG3D scheme will help people discover and explore even more of their work in the highest detail, right in their web browser.

We’re only just at the beginning of this three year journey so be sure to check back here for updates or follow us on Twitter.

You can find find out more about Iconem’s work via their website or by following their profiles on Sketchfab, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo.

About the author

Thomas Flynn

Cultural Heritage Lead at Sketchfab.
Co-founder of museuminabox.org


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  • Extraordinary news!

    Congratulations and SketchFab and Iconem.

    The ability to upload large 3D models and HD textures and the ability to view them on browsers in a easily way is one of the big challenges on 3D Documentation world!

    I am very excited and curious to see the development of this ambitious project!

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