Everyone’s interested in creating new worlds in virtual reality, with tools like Amazon Sumerian, but the real world still has a place. Google wants to take you on a tour of some of the world’s most important historical sites, and you don’t even have to stand up. Just head to the new Open Heritage site to see archival data on 27 important historical sites. You can even explore some of them in VR with the right hardware.
Google has collaborated with a non-profit called CyArk to create these 3D experiences. The goal of CyArk is to preserve locations of cultural significance, focusing especially on places that might not last much longer. CyArk isn’t just taking photos, although that’s part of it. Starting in 2003, it deployed lidar sensors and other scanning technology to make 3D models of historic locations. Open Heritage includes several dozen exhibits from CyArk, as well as some behind-the-scenes material that shows how the images and data were captured.
The initial selection of Open Heritage include the Bagan temples in Myanmar, the city of Ayutthaya in Thailand, and cliff-side cities in Mesa Verde. There are three types of content so far. The Expedition Overviews provide all that behind-the-scenes information along with some panoramic images and small 3D models. The larger 3D models get their own listings in Open Heritage, allowing you to see ancient Corinth or the Temple of Eshmun from any angle.
The most impressive and immersive option is the full VR tour of the Bagan temples in Myanmar. Here, you can take a virtual stroll down the corridors and see examples of damage done by past earthquakes. The entire experience is narrated with additional videos of the scanning conservation process.
The best way to experience Bagan in Open heritage is with VR, but it’ll work on your computer with a keyboard and mouse to move around. If you want to do VR, you’ll need a phone and Chrome (or another browser capable of rendering high-resolution webGL content). Android phones and iPhones should both be able to use a simple Cardboard viewer for basic VR, but to get the full effect you’d need a Daydream-compatible Android phone and viewer. The image quality is better, and you have a remote with which to explore the temples.