09 December 2013

Can Digital 3D Modeling Preserve the Past and Present for Future Generations? What Can We Do to Make This Happen?


Thomas MacEntee (Hack Genealogy) posted a link to The Future of Preserving the Past Is All About You (Jamie Condliffe on GIZMODO).  Though this sounds remarkably similar to what all genealogists and family historians do, it’s about using 3D rendering technologies to “preserve” monuments, buildings and any 3D item that has or will have historical relevance.

It’s surprisingly easy to capture 3D models of small everyday objects using little more than your phone and some patience. Autodesk’s 123D Catch(*), for instance, leans on a technique called photogrammetry to make use of your iPhone’s camera and processing grunt to create 3D models of real objects. Essentially, it infers geometric properties of an object from a series of photographs taken from different angles.

It’s not a new idea—in fact, the theoretical principles of photogrammetry have existed since the birth of photography—but the ease of application is now made possible by the tiny computers we all carry around in our pockets, all day, every day.

How cool does that sound?  I have often struggled with this issue in that I was given some “thimbles” that had belonged to my great great grandfather who was a saddler.  I have
photographed them to share with the family and yet it doesn’t quite do them justice.  I also have
some china.  See this post on Upfront with NGS to “see” images of my 3D challenges (called curios in the post) as I sought guidance on how I might digitize these!


I guess, as they say, “all things will come to those who wait;” I now might have a way to digitally preserve my curios!

Do read the mentioned article.  It talks about different projects for digitizing 3D objects including one where school children are capturing local heritage sites in 3D.  It also mentions a Google collection of 3D models and the Smithsonian has a Facebook page devoted to 3D Digitization.

Pursuing the concatenation of 3D + genealogy I came across this neat article 18th century tombstones deciphered with new 3D technology which suggests that we can also use 3D imaging technology to help us re-create what may already be lost.  We’ve seen where long-lost buildings or communities have been re-created in 3D and to be able to use 3D technology to “read” what was engraved on a tombstone and yet not visible to us is just wonderful.

It’s always fun to read about new technology that might have application to our hunt for information on and context about the lives of our ancestors.



Have you been involved with a 3D rendering project of interest to genealogists?

What other uses might such technology have for family historians?


Editor’s Note: (*) this software is FREE and available as a PC download, app for iPhone & ipad, or as a web app.  I’m waiting for an android version!  When it comes out, I will test it on my thimble and report back! Though, I might distract myself sooner and play with the web-based or computer download versions.



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