Scanning the depths with digital map
A trailblazing project to digitally map Bermuda’s sunken treasure of shipwrecks came about by “one of those moments of destiny”, in the words of Falko Kuester.
A computer scientist and engineer specialising in cultural heritage, Mr Kuester excitedly recalls a telephone call about a year ago from Bermudian film-maker Jean-Pierre Rouja.
“The word ‘shipwrecks’ woke up that 12-year-old in me,” said the professor from the University of California San Diego, who showcased the first scans from the stage of this weekend’s TEDx Bermuda.
Dubbed the Bermuda 100 Challenge, its 3.5 billion data points scanned so far are now online for anyone to delve into.
The depth of detail must be seen to be believed: “This is an interactive 3D model built off of tens of thousands of photographs, not just video,” Mr Kuester said. “We want to allow you to go there and discover it for yourself.”
Bermuda’s healthy reefs and its storied catalogue of sunken ships offer an ideal project for the university’s cultural heritage engineering initiative, which will expand to other watery sites of significance.
Mr Rouja is the founder of the LookBermuda production company, which runs Nonsuch Expeditions that has brought live cameras into the burrows of cahows for a world audience.
“We’re looking for ways of using engineering technology to help with conservation, research and educational outreach,” Mr Rouja said.
As soon as the Bermuda team heard about Mr Kuester’s work in scanning and preserving historical sites, “I knew we had to connect with these guys”, Mr Rouja recalled.
The TEDx Bermuda audience was taken through “digital surrogates” that included the surface of Mars.
From the stage on Saturday, Mr Kuester launched the site, shown live for the first time, zooming in on the Mary Celestia, the Blanche King and the Montana and plumbing the wreck interiors.
As Mr Rouja explained, the start of the Bermuda 100 Challenge is “just the top of the iceberg in terms of what we’ll be doing with them”.
“We’re testing technology here and showcasing Bermuda in the process,” he said, also thanking Department of Environment and Natural Resources for facilitating the project.
Philippe Rouja, the department’s custodian of historic wrecks, likened the scans, rich in detail, to an intelligent book.
“We’ve created images that we can ask any question of — that’s really the magic,” he said.
“For someone who’s worked with the Sistine Chapel, with heritage around the world, to say that they’re blown away by what we have on our doorstep — that’s incredible. I didn’t realise the beauty, the gravity of it all, until it came up on that screen.”
The repository of artefacts being scanned will grow through “the open access exchange with the images coming in”, he added.
Mr Kuester described the site as “a teaser to show what we can do”.
“Bermuda with its shipwrecks and coral reefs is the perfect birthplace for this initiative,” he said. “We hope that Bermuda becomes the catalyst for a global transformation.”
As the first sites are scanned, the project hopes to attract underwriters for efforts aimed at “a global digital atlas of shipwrecks”.
To look at the work so far, go to the site http://bermuda100.ucsd.edu/