In recent years, Google's Arts & Culture project has been leading the way in terms of innovating the practice of using technology to preserve landmarks and great works of art via digital 3D copies. Increasingly, these efforts are also giving history buffs the chance to experience classic works and spaces with unparalleled intimacy through the wonders of augmented reality.
On Wednesday, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an organization that aims to preserve architectural and archaeological sites, in partnership with digital archive non-profit CyArk and Google Arts & Culture, launched Heritage on the Edge, an online hub of immersive experiences and models created from 3D laser scans of historic sites.
The website documents five United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites, including Easter Island's famous statues, the adobe city of Chan Chan in Peru, Scotland's Edinburgh Castle, the coastal city of Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania, and the mosque city of Bagerhat in Bangladesh, each of which have endured damage from the elements as well as climate change.
"Preserving and protecting the past is essential for our future," said Dr. Toshiyuki Kono, the president of ICOMOS and private international law and heritage law professor at Kyushu University in Japan, in a statement. "Our 10,000 members across the globe — including architects, archaeologists, geographers, planners, and anthropologists — share the same vision: to protect and promote the world's cultural heritage. The recent youth climate demonstrations shed a spotlight on the urgency of the climate crisis, which is having a devastating effect on our cultural monuments too. It is important to take action, and we must act now to save this part of our human legacy."
In addition to more than 50 web exhibits, 3D models, Street View tours, and interviews with experts, Google Arts & Culture is hosting an augmented reality experience of the Nine Dome Mosque in Bagerhat. Using the Pocket Gallery feature on the iOS and Android app, the experience gives users the opportunity to view a tabletop model in augmented reality and explore a 360-degree, life-sized rendering of the site.
The Pocket Gallery is the seventh such AR experience hosted through the Google Arts and Culture app. The app has previously shared a gallery of the works of Johannes Vermeer and The Art of Color, which featured paintings by Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, among others.
The app also delivers several other camera-based features, including the Art Projector, which places various famous works of art, one at a time, in the user's physical space.
Also, along the same lines, the Google Arts and Culture team has launched dedicated AR apps for projects like the Big Bang and Notable Women.
While Google has deployed augmented reality across its various mobile apps over the past few years, the technology has been especially helpful for the Google Arts & Culture team, allowing it to give fans of the arts and humanities the opportunity to virtually view paintings and artifacts in ways they might not otherwise be able to afford to in the real world.
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