Digital Pompéi : a massive 3D model rendered in Microsoft Edge

May 04, 2015

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On the occasion of Microsoft's "Build" conference in San Francisco between April 29 and May 1, a preview demonstration of the "Digital Pompeii" project was made.  It is a deep technical achievement from a project developed in France which was introduced: a visualization scenario of the full 3D model of this world heritage archaeological site as well as an interactive virtual navigation experience via the Microsoft Edge Windows 10 web browser. This great step forward is the fruit of an exemplar collaboration between academic, public and private organizations: Microsoft Research and Inria, through their joint research center in Paris, and the French startups Iconem and Cintoo3D. The broader ambition of this project is to propose a new approach to 3D cartography of cities and major urban centers.


An extraordinary technical challenge applauded by the developers community

In introduction to the Gaming sequence at the morning keynote of the Build event on Tuesday April 30, Microsoft's Redmond VP of Developer eXperience Steve Guggenheimer choose to highlight a research and innovation initiative in graphics: the “Digital Pompeii” project.

Thanks to the Babylon.js Open Source 3D engine the demo highlighted a web based visualization scenario of a "massive" 3D model of Pompeii, and an interactive virtual exploration experience above the famous archaeological site.

"Digital Pompeii" is a technical proof of concept, foreshadowing as well a digital platform for helping managing the archaeological site, as a more "mainstream" interactive discovery application that could see the light in the coming months.

According to Isabelle Ryl , Director of the Inria Paris Rocquencourt Research Center , "Digital Pompeii is an exemplary result of a project initiated in France, firstly in the form of a research project, then as an innovation project that followed on from a technology transfer. It is the fruit of an original collaborative effort between public research institutions and private companies: Inria, Microsoft France, the Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Center, the startups Iconem and Cintoo3D, plus CNRS, Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) and PSL Research University, in close coordination with the Superintendent of Pompeii."


Step one: capturing pictures from the 8 km² of the archaeological ruins and creating a 3D model with an accuracy within centimetres

The creation of this 3D model has no precedent. It is the result of the application of photogrammetry techniques on a hitherto unprecedented scale: that of an entire city. To cover the entire site, Iconem took 30,000 photos from an altitude of 30 meters using a drone and a captive balloon. The 3D model was then created by the means of Inria research algorithms thanks to 1,200 hours of compute time in the Microsoft Azure Cloud.

"The starting point of this project dates back to 2009, when we brought together researchers into a multi-disciplinary team at the Microsoft Research-Inria Joint Centre to explore the application to archeology of 3D reconstruction techniques from digital pictures using the PMVS software (http://www.di.ens/pmvs). With Hélène Dessales, senior lecturer at ENS and expert in Roman architecture, we studied and modeled for the very first time the Villa of Diomedes, one of the biggest private residences in Pompeii, before considering the extension of this approach to the entire site" , explains Jean Ponce , lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Director of the joint CNRS/ENS/Inria Willow team.

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