The tools of the trade for digital preservation continue to improve thanks to advances in technology and research. As the technology improves, these tools also become smaller and cheaper making them more accessible to the heritage preservation communities around the world, too. Below is a short list of the tools that initiatives like CyArk are using to digitally document, preserve and share our global heritage.

3D Laser Scanning

Scanning the Al Azem Palace by Project Anqa Partners (From the collection of CyArk)

This is a non-destructive technology that digitally captures the surface and dimensions of physical objects using laser light (also called LIDAR). CyArk uses scanners to create “point clouds” of the surface of a monument to document its exact size and shape. Individual scans are registered to one another, as well as to photographs to create a complete 3D point cloud.


Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs. CyArk takes overlapping images in a regimented manner on a robotic rig that is moved around the site to capture the color and texture of the structure. These photos are then brought into specialized software to create a 3D photo-textured model. Because these photos are taken from the ground, we call this terrestrial photogrammetry, which is used outside and inside buildings.

Drones and Aerial Photogrammetry

CyArk documents Ayutthaya with drone (From the collection of CyArk)

As with terrestrial photogrammetry, CyArk uses drone-mounted cameras to capture overlapping photos of roofs and other delicate areas that are too sensitive or impossible to document from the ground. The photos are combined using specialized software to create a 3D photo-textured model.

Structured Light Scanning

CyArk scanning Templo Mayor in Mexico City (From the collection of CyArk)

Structured light scanners are 3D scanning devices used for measuring the three-dimensional shape of an object using projected light patterns and a camera system. CyArk uses structured light scanning to capture detailed portions of a building and artifacts.

Stereoscopic 360 Imagery

CyArk documents Bagan with 360 imagery (From the collection of CyArk)

This form of panoramic photography and video allows for immersive, 360 degree views of a site. Multiple images taken from a single location are stitched together to create a seamless 360 degree image. CyArk uses panoramas to create virtual tours and virtual reality experiences. Google’s Jump Camera was used to create the immersive videos found in this project’s Lab Experiment.

3D Point Cloud

3D Point Cloud scan of Tikal Temple I (From the collection of CyArk)

Point clouds are created from laser scanning and photogrammetry. They represent the external surface of an object. Each data point contains 3D coordinate information (x, y and z), to locate the specific point in space. The point clouds are used to inform underlying geometry of a structure and are used to create the 3D model.

3D Models

LiDAR and photogrammetric images are combined to form a 3D photo-realistic model that can be used for physical conservation work, producing a digital record for the future, and sharing valuable information about the heritage site for research and education around the globe.

Source: Google art and Culture

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