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Island leads way in 3D shipwreck models

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A 3D digital model of the Mary Celestia one of a hundred historic wrecks being captured as part of the Bermuda 100 Challenge

Bermuda is at the forefront of a groundbreaking project to create 3D digital models of underwater shipwrecks with an unprecedented level of detail.

Many of the island’s historic shipwrecks will now be immortalised in digital form, allowing viewers to swim “virtually” around them thanks to a partnership between the University of California San Diego, Bermuda’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources and LookBermuda.

The Bermuda 100 Challenge pushes the frontiers of engineering technology and the first four of the 100, 3D-scanned wrecks — the Montana, the Blanche King, the Manila and the Mary Celestia — can be viewed on www.bermuda100.com

Visitors to the America’s Cup Village will already have seen a portion of the project at the educational zone, where LookBermuda founder and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Rouja was giving demonstrations on two 3D digital displays. The films allow viewers around the world with an internet connection to “virtually” dive below Bermuda’s ocean and swim among the ships with all their coral reef systems in place.

The goal is to map the wrecks and sites of natural beauty and ecological importance allowing marine scientists, historians, students, archaeologists and conservationists to monitor the wrecks and reefs over time.

Mr Rouja, who initiated the Bermuda 100 project, said: “This is a perfect example of our ongoing efforts to combine high-quality media with the latest disruptive technologies for cultural preservation, conservation, exploration and education, while partnering with experts in their respective fields. This project allows scientists, students and the public at large to view, interact with and ultimately better appreciate these otherwise hard-to-access resources.”

According to UC San Diego computer scientist and structural engineer Falko Kuester, the Bermuda 100 Challenge could become the foundation for a global atlas of shipwreck sites and coral reefs.

Dr Kuester said: “It would allow scientists, stakeholders and the public alike to explore and better understand these unique ecosystems and contribute towards their preservation. This project pushes the envelope of science, technology and engineering in the context of robotic sensor platforms, imaging systems, 3D modelling, visualisation and interactive data exploration.”

For Bermuda’s Custodian of Historic Wrecks, Philippe Rouja, the site could generate new enthusiasts.

Dr Rouja explained: “Without the limits of a mask, tank and fins, we can share an image of an underwater aircraft engine with plane enthusiasts and engineers and generate interest from sectors far beyond the diving fraternity. We have plans to create models of some of the more unique elements of our wreck sites — sites that are not open to the public — so the online community can give us the benefit of professional insights. For those who cannot travel or cannot dive, the 3D virtual experience is of particular value.”

Bermuda has been at the centre of Atlantic commerce for over 400 years. Dr Rouja added: “The richer the stories we can tell and the more engaging and interconnected we can make our heritage, the easier it will be to preserve and manage it for future generations.”

So far, more than four billion data points have been seamlessly stitched together using the latest technology to make a complete “virtual reality” experience. The points must be rendered and displayed 30 times every second, which means processing 133 billion data points per second. If 3D goggles are involved and data for the left and right eyes are rendered separately, the total data points double to 266 billion.

Robert Steinhoff, chairman of the Historic Wrecks Authority, said: “Strong international partnerships in marine heritage and marine science have resulted in our small community taking bold and important, internationally recognised conservation steps. Shipwrecks in Bermuda continue to have an important role to play in marine conservation — not least in attracting people into the ocean space.

“Bermuda’s exciting shipwrecks invite the world diving community to visit Bermuda and experience it in person, while the partnership with UC San Diego will be a test bed for advanced virtual imaging technology that allows us to share our underwater museum with the world — and hopefully inspire a new generation of cultural and natural conservationists.

The Bermuda 100 Challenge website and online media
A 3D digital model of the Mary Celestia one of a hundred historic wrecks being captured as part of the Bermuda 100 Challenge