September 10, 2008

Explore Shipwrecks In Virtual Reality

A new virtual simulator lets people operate their own virtual submersibles to explore hidden treasures at deep underwater archaeological sites.

The Venus project team has generated 3D digital records of underwater European shipwrecks that can act as a permanent record of these sites.

The team is debuting the simulator at the BA Science Festival in Liverpool.

The Venus (Virtual Exploration of Underwater Sites) consortium has drawn on expertise from a wide range of disciplines - including computer science.

Two European shipwrecks, including Pianosa in Italy where amphorae - ancient ceramic vases - were found, have already been recreated for simulation.

Archaeologists in the past would prepare detailed hand-drawn sketches of such sites once they were discovered.

But over the past three years, the Venus project team has developed an advanced system to acquire accurate and detailed 3D maps of precious artifacts that lie on the seabed at various depths below the surface.

High-resolution photographic data is collected by divers or remotely operated unmanned vehicles while multi-beam sonar is used to locate the exact position of the artifacts.

With these technological advances, archaeologists will be able to extract statistical information from the data and determine where they are most likely to find cargo.

The Deep Aquarium in Hull is displaying the simulator, and the software will also be accessible online.

The general public will be able to use the simulator simply to explore the deep.

Dr. Paul Chapman from the University of Hull, said members of the public can experience the actual dive process - from coming off the vessel and piloting a submarine down to an accurate model of the seabed.

"Presenting Venus is this way allows us to capture the imagination of the general public in a way that could not be achieved using traditional methods of dissemination," he added.


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