A new CAVEkiosk virtual-reality system that allows researchers to visualize and analyze at-risk archaeological sites in the Middle East opened in early November in Geisel Library, and is one of four kiosks planned for University of California campuses at San Diego, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Merced. The UC collaboration has been led by UC San Diego archaeologist Tom Levy, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and director of the Qualcomm Institute’s Center for Cyber-Archaeology and Sustainability (CCAS).
The At-Risk Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities project, funded by a UC President’s Research Catalyst Award, leverages a 10-100 Gigabits-per-second network—the National Science Foundation-funded Pacific Research Platform (PRP)—to harness and preserve “big data” to ensure that endangered cultural heritage resources are preserved and safeguarded.
“The installation of the 3-D CAVEkiosk in UC San Diego’s Geisel Library marks the completion of a major research goal of the project,” said Levy. “Our team is very excited about that. In addition to catalyzing cyber-archaeology work and providing virtual reality-equipped network bandwidth with which UC scholars can collaborate, share, store and visualize at-risk cultural heritage data, members of the campus communities and visitors to the kiosks can “travel” to cultural heritage sites and explore them as if they were there.”
The Catalyst project also employs a number of undergraduate students who are learning and honing valuable data science and VR technology skills. At UC San Diego, a team of students—all of whom are members of the campus VR Club— have been working with Levy and other researchers to visualize datasets for 3-D viewing in both the Geisel Library CAVEkiosk and in personal VR devices such as Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.
In addition to Geisel Library, 3-D kiosks are being installed at UC Merced’s Kolligian Library, UC Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum, and UCLA’s Fowler Museum—the latter two in 2017, said Levy. While the project’s most urgent goal is to preserve at-risk cultural heritage data and digital artifacts, the plethora of 3-D archaeological data will also be used to study, forecast and model the effects of human conflict, climate change, natural disasters and technological and cultural changes on these sites and landscapes.
The CAVEkiosk technology—CAVE stands for “cave automated virtual environment”—was pioneered by Tom DeFanti, senior research scientist and scientific visualization leader with the Qualcomm Institute, the UC San Diego division of Calit2. The CAVEkiosk is the first large-scale 3-D immersive environment designed expressly for public engagement, so that members of the campus communities and the public can experience at-risk cultural heritage first-hand in libraries, museums and other public places.