Google has partnered with CyArk, the non-profit studio behind VR app MasterWorks: Journey Through History (2018), to expand CyArk’s mission to 3D laser-scan the world’s historical sites and provide open access to the data. Called the Open Heritage Project, Google and CyArk aim to preserve the historical sites digitally for future generations in case disaster strikes

Google has published CyArk’s 3D scans on the Google Arts & Culture mobile app and on the Open Heritage Project website, giving it a place where users can freely explore and learn about some of the most endangered and off-limits historical sites on the planet. According to a report by The Verge, the Open Heritage Project will also provide VR tours through Google’s Daydream platform.

The studio has created 3D models spanning history including Ancient Corinth to the Brandenburg Gate, although the project is mostly focusing on ‘at risk’ sites. Sites such as the Ananda Ok Kyaung temple, in Bagan, Myanmar remain closed to visitors due to the damage from a 2016 earthquake. You can now virtually step inside and discover its famous wall paintings for yourself.

Google and CyArk are making the source data of the models available to anyone interested. You can apply to download the data, although you can’t use the models to produce anything for commercial use.

CyArk does this by using a laser-scanning Light Detection and Ranging device (LIDAR) and photo imagery using professional-level DSLRs and imagery captured via drones. Combining these two fundamental techniques, the company can make highly accurate recreations of scenes like the ones seen above. You can check out a number of CyArks scans in VR through the MasterWorks app for Oculus Rift and Gear VR.

CyArk founder Ben Kacyra was inspired to preserve the world’s heritage sites digitally when the Taliban destroyed a number of 1,500 year-old Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2001. Kacyra helped create of the world’s first portable 3D laser scanning system, and quickly realized the potential of the technology to preserve these sites for time immemorial.

The non-profit lays claim to “the largest and most detailed 3D digital archive of endangered wonders of the world,” something CyArks says will provide lasting record of monuments at risk of disappearing.

This is a great innovation regarding cultural heritage preservation. People will be able to view the 3D models of different monuments around the world in very high quality and detail. If, in the future, these 3D models would be combined either with Storytelling, Presence, Gamification features or all these features combined, which are studied by TA4 in the ViMM Project, a great virtual museum experience would be created for the people. A nice storytelling feature could be a 3D character explaining the story of each monument and offering interaction with the user. Presence features could be offered by using a VR headset (full immersion) or using AR features (partial immersion). Finally, Gamification features that could be added are different elements that would make the user keep exploring the monument and not lose his/her interest.