Friday, December 27, 2013

3D Scanning Helps Preserve Naval History

3D scanning frequently takes us to amazing places to document incredible things. We're pretty passionate about recording the world in 3D and we'll often offer our scanning services when we see an interesting or important chance to document historical artifacts or to help someone. Some recent examples are sending a technician out to Alaska to digitize rare Inuit tribal masks as well as recently scanning an amputee to help create a robotic arm. Our location in Baltimore also frequently presents opportunities to scan important items and structures related to our nation's history.

Having learned from the local news about a major maintenance project underway for the famous USS Constellation and her equally historic cousin, the submarine USS Torsk, Direct Dimensions’ president Michael Raphael contacted the organizers and offered assistance with our 3D technologies. Why? Because it is interesting, because we can, and because we should gather as much 3D data as possible while these important artifacts exist.

The USS Constellation frigate was commissioned by the US Navy in 1855 and remained active for just over 100 years. During her active lifetime, she captured slave ships, carried famine relief supplies to Ireland, shuttled exhibits to France for the Exhibition of 1878, and served as a training vessel for sailors during World War I.

As the last remaining naval vessel afloat from the Civil War era, the USS Constellation was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and moved to her permanent home docked in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The ship is open daily for visits.The USS Torsk, meanwhile, is normally docked a pier over, and was launched in 1944 and decommissioned in 1968. Her claim to fame is that on August 14, 1945, she torpedoed and sunk the last enemy ship of World War II.

It is vitally important to maintain and study these unique national treasures. They will not last forever. Today’s 3D laser scanning technology can very quickly provide a comprehensive dimensional mapping of their unique designs for historical documentation and analysis. We can leave a record of these artifacts in 3D digital format for generations to come.

We were honored to help the Historic Ships in Baltimore organization with our newest and most advanced 3D scanning tools while the two ships were in drydock for repairs. While the organization was unfamiliar with the 3D technologies offered, they were blown away by the initial scan data and excited about the possibilities!

 Using the powerful combination of the FARO Photon laser scanner and the Surphaser HSX_IR laser scanner from Basis Software, Direct Dimensions' engineers Glenn Woodburn and Dan Haga captured huge areas of the historic ship hull surfaces in the form of millions of 3D data points. The 3D laser scanning process resembles the more traditional surveying process, which uses optical scopes to measure a distant target; except these scanners can make an incredibly dense 3D point cloud of the entire scene in just minutes. The Photon unit captures at a longer range while the Surphaser data is incredibly accurate with extremely high resolution. The combination of these two technologies provided a unique set of 3D scans allowing different types of analysis.
Between both scanners it took only fifty scans, each only about 10 minutes long, and both ships were fully captured. Following the onsite scanning, the engineers used PolyWorks software to rapidly align and merge the multiple 'point clouds' into a single coordinated file of each ship hull.

The final fully merged point cloud of the ships can be used in numerous ways. This essentially raw data can be used directly to obtain complex 3D measurements for any future maintenance or research. It could also be utilized to create a 3D walkthrough for educational purposes or an online museum version of the ship, and can even be used to create scaled versions of the ship which could be sold as souvenirs.

It is amazing how quickly we can now digitally document these massive historic structures, artifacts and monuments. Even if there is no immediate end use in mind for the data, it is important to create a digital historic record for the potential needs of future generations.