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Google announced today that it has partnered with CyArk for the Open Heritage project, which aims to “preserve” endangered historical sites using advanced 3D laser scanning technology. In addition to creating reference-caliber maps of locations to be used in reconstruction efforts, the partnership will allow users with VR headsets, mobile devices, and computers to tour the sites in 3D.

CyArk’s system creates millimeter-precise maps of shapes, colors, and textures that can be used as direct comparisons against structures that are at risk of complete or partial destruction. While laser scanning is a key element in the mapping, the company also uses drones and DSLRs to capture imagery used in the virtual construction process.

Founder Ben Kacyra created CyArk after the Taliban destroyed 1,500-year-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, ruining the local equivalent of Mount Rushmore in an effort to demonstrate Islamic control of the region. The company has digitized more than 25 locations across 18 countries, including the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, Mexico; Germany’s Brandenburg Gate; and Myanmar’s Ananda Ok Kyaung Temple, which was damaged by a 2016 earthquake.

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Not all of the locations can be viewed in VR. “For many of the sites, we also developed intricate 3D models that allow you to inspect from every angle, using the new Google Poly 3D viewer on Google Arts & Culture,” said Google program manager Chance Coughenour, referring to the company’s seven-year-old venture for digitally preserving and sharing significant artworks online. “This project marks a new chapter for Google Arts & Culture, as it is the first time we’re putting 3D heritage sites on the platform.”

Arts & Culture currently offers digital collections from 1,500 museums across 70 countries, as well as walkthroughs of some museums using a Street View-style interface. The service has recently added VR tours, and with CyArk’s Open Heritage contributions will clearly be expanding its cultural footprint. You can view the models through the Open Heritage site or through Google’s free Arts & Culture app for Android and iOS.

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