Pushing Toward a Paradigm Shift in Cultural Heritage: the CyArk 500 Challenge

Youve likely heard our (CyArks)story before on LiDAR News: the non-profit working with global partners to digitize humanitys heritage. But the digital recording of heritage is only the start of our story. The data collected by todays 3D reality capture technologies, such as LiDAR and photogrammetry, create tools that can benefit cultural heritage in many facets, far beyond traditional documentation methods. The born-digital 3D data is easily manipulated into tools for conservation as well as education and public benefit. It is this ease of multi-use that is 3D digital datas greatest benefit to heritage.

Yet the cultural heritage industry has not ubiquitously accepted LiDAR and other 3D technologies as the de facto methods for documentation. CyArk continues to spread our mission and advocate for the technologies benefits to heritage, but there is more work to be done. We are striving to create a paradigm shift in cultural heritage management, education, and outreach to take documentation of sites to the next level of utility and value. But paradigm shifts do not come easy and a great push has been needed.

A few years back, when we were still a budding organization, CyArk founder Ben Kacyra had the idea of creating a unique global initiative to spur the adoption of our methodology within the heritage world. He called it the CyArk 500. With time, our network of partners grew; it now tops over 170 organizations representing heritage groups and foundations, service providers, government agencies, education institutions, corporations, and more. It is with each of these partners that we have been able to grow our archive to comprise of over 100 heritage sites spanning all seven continents.

And it is with this mounting support that in October 2013 we were able to bring the vision of the CyArk 500 Challenge to the world. At the Tower of London in the UK, to an audience of over 200 individuals from 32 countries, including over 30 diplomatic representatives, we hosted a two day event. The conference was the official launch of the 500 Challenge, with its ambitious goal to digitally preserve 500 cultural heritage sites within the next 5 years in response to the accelerating threats facing heritage and before more sites are ravaged by war, terrorism, arson, urban sprawl, climate change, natural disasters, and time itself. The conference included:

Dinner for VIP diplomatic and heritage invitees at the White Tower, Tower of London

Exemplary sites previously archived by CyArk being ceremoniously deposited in the 500 Ark with the participation of national representatives for each site

A special announcement of support from Academy Award winning film maker James Cameron, who has donated his ROV video footage of the Titanic to CyArks archive

18 speakers covering three primary session topics – The Need: Challenges Facing Cultural Heritage, The Tools: Innovations in Reality Capture, and The Benefits: Beyond Documentation

Strong industry support and sponsorship from Iron Mountain, Topcon, Faro, Riegl, Leica Geosystems, 3D Laser Mapping, DotProduct, and Trimble

As part of the challenge, weve asked the world to participate in a few key ways:

Nominate a site for consideration by our blue-ribbon Advisory Council of heritage experts

Partner with us by donating data from heritage sites already captured in 3D; become a Supporting Partner by supporting the mission through institutional, technical, or other support, including volunteer services, discounted services, promotional services, and hardware/software donations; and/or become a Project Partner by working with us on data collection and dissemination for individual projects

Donate to the CyArk 500 Fund, a general fund established to support digital preservation of the selected 500 sites.

The result of the 500 Challenge launch has been as truly monumental as the sites we and our partners digitally preserve. The 500 Challenge has since been featured in over 200 media outlets, reaching over 750 million people. Our partners across the world have begun compiling and submitting the first round of nominations for the 500; these initial nominations already represent a dozen countries on four continents.

As ICOMOS President, Gustavo Araoz, said, We want to use the technology beyond mere documentation to promote capacity building in all regions. We hope the 500 Challenge will be the first great push toward this paradigm shift in cultural heritages adoption of LiDAR and 3D data capture technologies for management, education, and outreach.

If you did not have the opportunity to attend the CyArk 500 Challenge launch and conference at the Tower of London this past October, or if you did and you want to revisit your favorite talks, all the sessions are now freely available in a YouTube playlist on the CyArk YouTube channel.

About the Author

Justin Barton

Justin Barton is the Chief Technology Advocate as well as Manager of Partnership Development for the California-based, cultural heritage non-profit CyArk. Justin's role is varied and spans the breadth of CyArk activities. He has spent considerable time over the years helping establish CyArk's standards for both long-term data archiving as well as data collection during field work. He also manages CyArk's University partnerships and will often conduct training sessions with CyArk's educational institution-based Technology Centers. The trainings cover data collection, data processing, and data management for cultural heritage digital preservation projects. Justin holds a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MA in Field Archaeology from University College London's Institute of Archaeology. His graduate research focused on the use of laser scanning to create improved conservation tools for site archaeologists. Justin has published multiple articles both about his research as well as CyArk's projects in peer-reviewed academic journals and industry publications. He can often be found representing CyArk at various conferences and guest lectures. Justin continues to have a personal interest in the use of laser scanning for preservation and conservation of earthen architecture, one of archaeology's most fragile resource.
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