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How do scientists preserve historic buildings digitally?

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In the battle to save knowledge from the affects of time and degradation, ancient architecture and artefacts are now being digitally preserved.

Asked by: Clare Simpson, London


Many important buildings are lost because of natural disasters such as fires and earthquakes. More recently, war and religious conflict have caused the deliberate destruction of thousands of ancient structures. Digital scanning technologies offer one way to preserve our history. They use laser scanning and cameras, sometimes mounted on drones, to take full three-dimensional scans of architecture and artefacts.

These can then be reconstructed in a computer to produce identical 3D models complete in every visible detail. Put on a VR headset and you can virtually visit them any time you like. It’s a technique being used right now to preserve the 3,000-year-old city of Volterra in Tuscany, Italy (pictured above, the Roman theatre at Volterra).

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Dr Peter Bentley is a computer scientist and author who is based at University College London. He is the author of books including 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Digital Biology: How nature is transforming our technology and our lives.


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