It could soon be easier for both archaeologists and tourists to glimpse objects as they were in the past with a new tool developed by researchers from the University of Bordeaux and University College in London.

Essentially an augmented reality (AR) flashlight, the device uses 3D laser scans of objects to apply a digital reconstruction over the top. The combination of the virtual and the physical is called ‘spatial augmented reality’, and has been a focus of AR developments over recent years.

“Cultural heritage artefacts often contain details that are difficult to distinguish due to ageing effects such as erosion,” a researcher from the University of Bordeaux explained.

“We propose the revealing AR flashlight, a new interaction and visualisation technique in spatial augmented reality that helps to reveal the detail of such artefacts.”

How it works

The technology can’t yet work on the fly, and scientists have had to rely on detailed scans taken beforehand. The laser images allow researchers to see the finer details of the model, and then project a subsequent 3D model over the top. This 3D overlay essentially fills in the gaps, creating a new representation.

To view the model, users use a gesture-controlled flashlight system to point around the artefact and see various areas in both the new and old variants.

Looking ahead

Eventually, the technologies could be used with wearable computers such as Google Glass to observe objects of historical significance with ease.

A tourist in Egypt, for example, could gaze at the Sphinx and see it fully reconstructed, or observe the Pyramids as they once were, fully covered in the smooth casing stones that have since crumbled.

It may even be possible to apply to geological formations, allowing users to view the world as it was millions or even billions of years in the past.

For now, research is ongoing, but the possibilities are certainly exciting for those interested in history.

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