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Laser Scanners Go Where Lara Croft Cannot

| 5 May 2009 14:35
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While H.A.W.X. and other flight sims can rely on Google Maps, Ms. Croft has had to rely on Eidos's level designers - until now.

A team of 10 Austrian and Italian archaeologists, architects and computer scientists have used laser scanners to precisely map the cavern of Saint Domitilla. Situated just outside the Italian capital, the catacombs date back to the second century, and stretch for more than fifteen kilometers, over many levels.

Unfortunately, given the safety problems, the public is only allowed 500 meters in, making the images of the underground tunnels the only way us normal folks can traverse them.

The caverns were scanned by a setup consisting of a laser scanner hooked up with a camera. While the scanner slowly rotates, creating a "point cloud" of all the details, the camera follows taking shots of the surfaces. The color between the laser points is then extracted by computer and the resultant image produces a fully detailed 3D map, including paintings that haven't been seen for nearly 2,000 years.

"It is not a virtual image, it is not animation - what you are seeing is real data," says Dr. Norbert Zimmerman of the Vienna Academy of Sciences.

"Its moving, 3D flexibility gives you the chance to compare areas, to assess the ways the catacombs were developed over time, to analyze how and why those who built them did what they did," he adds. "That's never been possible before."

It's still slow work though. The scan of the Saint Domitilla cavern took three whole years, and there are still more than 40 more, stretching 170 kilometers.

It's doubtful that Ms. Croft will be running through any of these tombs soon though - the Saint Domitilla team failed to turn up a single mystical artifact during their explorations.

Source: BBC Tech
(Video)

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