This is an interesting application of Lidar technology – creating a durable, highly precise, digital image of a standing pole, which can then be wrapped with high-resolution photographs and used in a “virtual tour” context. It can also be an archive for conservation. The project is underway to record a couple of dozen Tlingit poles in an outdoor setting in Sitka, Alaska.
Lidar stands for “light distancing and ranging” and is basically like radar or sonar, only using laser beams. Thousands of individual laser bursts can measure the three-dimensional surface of something like a totem pole to accuracy of a millimetre or less. This creates an accurate digital record of the shape of the pole which can then be rendered on-screen in various three-dimensional ways. Lidar has seen a fair bit of use in archaeological survey (especially its ability to digitally clearcut the trees) and also has seen quite a bit of table-top use to record artifacts in exquisite detail. The “meso-scale” recording of features like poles is less common though, especially outside of historical and classical archaeology. There is a lot of potential for recording petroglyphs I think — for example this recent dissertation (which I need to order) apparently shows proof of concept at Writing-On-Stone in southern Alberta.
The lidar device for the pole application is about the size of a breadbox (see above) and can be mounted on a tripod, or on rails/scaffolding. This audio interview and brief writeup tells us more about the Sitka case study, which is seemingly part of a larger historical scanning project in Sitka. I should add that we saw in passing, way back on this blog, a similar lidar+photo rendering of a Yukon paddlewheeler (see below). The value of these models is, I suppose, that they provide a highly accurate baseline from which to monitor deterioration. Further, if push came to shove, you could use the model to simply 3-D print out a new pole, or steamship.
My first thought was that it would be a very cool and useful project for the Haida Village of SGan Gwaay – one of the few places left on earth where poles still stand in numbers. I see that the idea was mooted as long ago as 2004, with the support of former President of the Haida Nation, Guujaw. Still, I don’t think anything happened about that, and I’m not even sure the single pole scan described in the article even happened. Maybe someone reading this knows.
It’d be a pretty sexy project for Parks Canada to undertake and it might not even be all that expensive. I could imagine a nice Parks-Haida Nation partnership with industry doing the scanning, and a University providing on-site beards and gravitas. Let’s get on it!