India's Digital Heritage programme: Taking heritage to VR
Microsoft Research has embarked on a pilot programme designed to digitise India's cultural heritage, and enable visitors to tour some of the greatest sites, without physical intrusion, or risking damage to structures.
They are using a QuickTime-like photo montage system rather than recreating digital content, such that visitors get the full view of what these sites actually look like. A series of distinct panoramic locations which are several feet to several dozen feet from one another, comprise the tours.
Microsoft have just finished collecting data for the pilot project at time of writing. This is a tour inside Sri Andal Temple in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu. If the final result is as well received as the researchers hope, it will open the floodgates for many more such projects across India.
Over 6,000 10 megapixel photos of the temple were taken, which were combined with Photosynth into a series of 3D environments, stitched together to allow navigation from one to another. Each of the discrete 3D environments can be navigated independently, although not from an avatar viewpoint. Rather an untethered viewpoint is used to dynamically explore the space, without the limitations of a human perspective.
One regrettable aspect of these photosynth merges is that the researchers did not spend much time photographing floors or ceilings. As you wander the environments, this fact really leaps out, as Photosynth leaves black voids where these should be.
Thousands of hours of video were also taken, along with interviews with priests at the temple, and audio tours of each room. These can be combined with the 3D vistas, as additional background data as people explore. Additional audio footage is also embedded in special interest areas of the temple.
The project is being run in collaboration with India's Department of Science and Technology (DST) and several academic organisations.