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Wrecktacular

Researchers Digitize WW2 Shipwreck, Viewable in VR

Picture of Matthew Mensley
by Matthew Mensley
Oct 20, 2017

Marine archaeology project Presence in the Past has created a detailed 3D model of WW2 shipwreck the SS Thistlegorm. You can view it in VR over at Sketchfab.

A joint venture between the University of Nottingham in the UK, and Ain Shams and Alexandria Universities of Egypt is going to great lengths — and depths — to preserve mostly-inaccessible (to us landlubbers) shipwreck sites for future generations’ understanding.

The universities’ archaeology courses are partnering to develop a stereoscopic 3D virtual reality-based research laboratory. A part of this is an offshoot project dubbed The Thistlegorm Project. This went live this month with its own flashy website.

To anyone with knowledge of the Red Sea and its popular diving hotspots, the Thistlegorm should be a familiar name. The WW2-era British freighter was sunk by enemy action on October 6, 1941, just outside the Gulf of Suez.

For decades the ship lay forgotten until famed French diver and conservationist Jacques Cousteau rediscovered it in the 1950s. In recent times it became a popular diving hotspot, renowned for the remarkably preserved cargo strewn around the ship’s husk.

Preserving the SS Thistlegorm

The recording of the SS Thistlegorm’s wreck took place in July 2017. A mixture of 360-degree video captures and photogrammetry (surveying through photographs) formed the main technology behind the ships’ digitization.

Sitting 32 meters below the surface, the SS Thistlegorm’s 140m-long wreck and surrounding debris posed a daunting challenge to the team of divers tasked with recording it. In total a record of 24,307 images spanning 637GB stitch together for the full 3D model of the Thistlegorm. And if that number wasn’t impressive enough, it took 65 days of computer processing time to process all that data.

To stitch the thousands of photographs together, common reference points must be found. This results in each photograph overlapping with those around it, forming a cohesive skin. This means painstaking passes to uniformly photograph every inch.

The team of divers also took to the Thistlegorm’s interior decks, bridge and rope room. Each a fascinating mini-diorama rich with detail.

In addition, a 4K 360-degree video tour of the wreck site were made. The footage makes for mesmerizing watching. Crank your device’s resolution to its highest and it’s the closest you’ll get without getting wet.

In all 12 dives spanning nearly 14 hours were necessary to thoroughly record the wreck. The results are all up on the Thistlegorm Project website, but for a little flexibility in how you view the 3D models they’re all on Sketchfab. There you can choose to view it in VR, if that’s your thing.

All images © thethisltegormproject.com

thistlegorm

License: The text of "Researchers Digitize WW2 Shipwreck, Viewable in VR" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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