A couple of years ago, my colleagues and I were researching applications for our laser scanner. As a company, i-TEN Associates was still pretty green on the use of the scanner and the markets that would most benefit from the technology we were holding. Historical preservation was a topic that kept coming to our attention and seemed like something that we could do. It was most certainly an interesting topic and the more I read about others documenting sites throughout the world, the more intrigued I was with the whole, somewhat romantic idea. Traveling the world, experiencing different cultures, drinking questionable water…
Sign. Me. Up.
Fast forward to about a year ago. One of our marketing staff decided to have a conversation with the director of the Historic Preservation League of Oregon (HPLO). At the time, we were looking at offering this organization the scans in the form of a fly-through video and of course, the raw data. That was pretty much the extent of our vision besides the possible latent application of moving the point clouds into a BIM for later historic rehabilitation. These concepts appeared reasonable, but the question continued to arise; whom would be the funding party for such endeavors? It was a hard sale. Needless to say, we did not gain much traction to sell a several thousand dollar fly-through and a possibility for the data to be used "someday". (I may have missed the class on business metrics somewhere along the line.)
I found a TED Talks late one night featuring an Iraqi expatriate named Ben Kacyra. An interesting man who spoke about things like "collective human memory" and the importance of cultural history. Mr. Kacyra was giving a talk on an organization called CyArk. I was immediately interested in what his organization was involved with. Later, I found the World Monuments Fund also doing similar work with digital, historic preservation. These organizations seemed to be utilizing Star Wars technology with the fervor of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Holy Cow – this is Awesome!
The idea of an open-source database of 3D historical buildings and artifacts derived from laser scans was brilliant. Possibly the most innovative idea I had ever seen for the future of historical education – indeed, for education in general. That was the angle we needed for success. We needed this data to be absolutely public and easily accessible.
There were a few problems with that. The first was funding. Other issues included hosting the data, and how the interface might look.
I created a plan with several colleagues. We would scan 100 buildings in Oregon and call it the ‘Sentinel Project’. Those of us that were involved would become digital preservationists, virtually saving the record of Oregon’s history, one scan at a time, funding or not. (sounded pretty heroic, if you ask me.)
Sometimes, a little forethought can be a good thing. A lot of energy without a plan makes, well…nothing. So, After multiple conversations with the HPLO, several other historical groups in Oregon, professional photographers, voice actors, retired Ambassadors, and just about anyone that would listen, we sought support for this project. It was clear early on that this project was bigger than our company and any one person. With our great enthusiasm, came interest. The vision coalesced into something tangible and even obtainable.
Over a year has passed since the inception of this idea. With the help of the University of Oregon, the incredible talents and expertise of Oregon State University, the HPLO, historical architects in Portland, and the support of others that share this vision of preserving Oregon’s history, we have moved forward. Our company has documented several historical sites with scanning, panoramic photography and video, Pro-Bono, to start making this vision a reality. Our focus has been to target the ‘most endangered places’ – determined by an annual list compiled by the hard work of Oregon’s historical community and spearheaded by the HPLO. We have collectively decided that a crucial portion of this massive documentation sweep will be to benefit the academic world. Some of the benefactors will include the students in the Historic Preservation program at the University of Oregon, primary school kids, and of course the public at large with apps to promote virtual tourism.
The work has begun, and we have a long way to go. Thankfully, we have progressive Oregonians becoming as excited about this new medium to history as we are about the technology behind this great project.