Written by IEEE | December 17, 2018

In conflict zones around the world, historical sites and monuments are being vandalized and destroyed. Once they’re ruined, they change the local landscape, and archaeologists and historians can no longer use them to build our understanding of history.

Now, several technologies are emerging that can help mitigate the effects of this destruction. For example, high-resolution cameras are being used to capture and map every detail of important structures that are still standing:

The corresponding 3D archival data can be used in a number of ways.

One application is the creation of virtual reality renderings, so that students and academics can tour sites as they were in the years before their destruction, allowing learning and research to continue.

A more intensive use is to recreate the objects themselves. Milling machines can employ the 3D data captured by the scanners in order to carve replicas. This powerful example from IEEE Spectrum discusses statues smashed by ISIS in Mosul, Iraq, which have since been recreated, serving as a powerful symbol in the city’s recovery.

If the damage isn’t terribly significant, these images can also serve as blueprints to help guide repairs in the coming years.

Of course, time is also a threat to historical sites, and some monuments are quite fragile, making them inaccessible to human surveyors. A notable example of this is the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, which has yet to be fully explored (and as a result, remains incredibly intact).

Fortunately, technological breakthroughs are making this type of exploration possible. This article on IEEE Spectrum highlights a robot designed explicitly to navigate the chambers of the Great Pyramid – the tubular dock can be inserted through a 3.5cm hole, unfold and inflate itself, navigate remotely, then return to its dock and deflate. Plus, if it crashes, it’s unlikely to damage anything.

For more videos on advances in virtual reality, visit our New Realms of Meaningful Immersion page.