No matter how iconic the great structures of civilization, time can erase the knowledge, history and culture stored in their stones in the span of a heartbeat.
Time’s ravages are visible at significant sites worldwide: The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD buried Pompeii. A 1349 earthquake collapsed the south side of the Roman Colosseum. Five fires have raged through Okinawa’s Shuri Castle, most recently in 2019. Many of the stones of Porta Nigra, the great Roman gate in Trier, Germany, were carted away for re-use in other structures. History has forgotten whether earthquakes or war collapsed the towering roof of India’s Konark Sun Temple. And if the Hanging Gardens of Babylon ever existed, the ages have erased any hint of where they stood.
Thanks to the research and hard work of six student teams, however, the Living Heritage challenge allows the world to once again experience these five UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as those who built and used them did . . . but this time in virtual reality. Their efforts are revealed today in an online exhibition titled “Living Heritage: A treasure for future generations,” the latest installment in Dassault Systèmes’ 10-act “The Only Progress is Human” campaign.
The overall campaign is designed to demonstrate the power of 3D virtual twin experiences to model, test and improve humanity’s response to 10 key global challenges. The Living Heritage challenge achieved this by immersing students in the knowledge and know-how of the civilizations that built the six iconic sites, which they then used to create virtual twins of the structures. Now their discoveries offer people everywhere a chance to explore these sites’ contribution to humanity’s shared cultural history.
“The arc of human progress is drawn not only by the inventions and innovations that we are able to conceive, but also by the lessons that our shared history teaches us,” said Victoire de Margerie, vice president of corporate marketing, branding and communications at Dassault Systèmes (3DS). “Virtual worlds offer us powerful tools to do both: gain a greater understanding of our past, and make the visionary models and real-world changes that will result in a better future for generations to come.”
RECREATING HISTORY IN VIRTUAL REALITY
The Living Heritage challenge was organized by the corporate communications team and 3DEXPERIENCE EDU, which provides students and educators with training on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform.
“We work with about 7 million students every year from more than 50,000 academic institutions in the world,” said Valérie Ferret, vice president of 3DEXPERIENCE EDU. “Thanks to their involvement in the Living Heritage Act, these students developed key skills to work in collaborative projects and with multiple disciplines. With their amazing work, not only we are able to better understand treasures from the past; we can also trust to them to create a more sustainable future.”
“Virtual worlds offer us powerful tools to gain a greater understanding of our past, and make the visionary models and real-world changes that will result in a better future for generations to come.”Victoire de Margerie, Vice President, Corporate Marketing, Branding and Communications, Dassault Systèmes
For members of the six student teams, participating in the challenge required a combination of historical detective work, digital archaeology, remote online collaboration, and an aggressive six-month deadline. During that time, the teams used the 3DEXPERIENCE platform to manage their work and create their virtual twin experiences.
Several of the team members are skilled robot-builders, but few had previous experience with the platform. Each team was paired with a 3DS employee who mentored the students in how to approach their projects and make best use of the platform’s capabilities. The skills they practiced – including online collaboration and project management – are engineering work experiences vital to preparing the Workforce of the Future. The projects also prepared the students to earn their 3DEXPERIENCE platform certifications.
“Due to the ongoing pandemic we couldn’t meet each other, so we had to work remotely,” said Juan Pablo Rojas Ibarra, leader of the Mexico team that reimagined the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. “We used the 3DEXPERIENCE platform’s cloud-based system [to collaborate and] to divide the work into smaller pieces.”
“3DEXPERIENCE really showed us the power of working online and working together,” said Rens Kappert, leader of the Netherlands team that modeled key portions of Pompeii. “In that sense, it was the only reason we were able to accomplish what we did.”
The teams used the platform to collect all of their research, identify and assign tasks, manage progress toward project milestones and create scientifically accurate 3D models of their chosen sites.
“You have everything you need in one place, like project planning to build the virtual reality,” said Ron Fraeser, student leader of the German team that modeled the ancient Roman gate Porta Nigra, the only one of four still standing in Trier.
“Because of the unique shape of the roof, we had a hard time making it look like a real thing,” said Jun Suzuki, leader of the Japan team that modeled Shuri Castle. “But when we had problems, our mentors were there to help. We also posted questions to the Swym Community.” Communities, a feature of the platform, gave the teams a chance to solicit advice not only from their assigned mentors, but also from 3DS employees worldwide.
MENTORING THE NEXT GENERATION
“Societies, culture, art . . . everything contributes to what we are today,” said Philippe Cocatrix, 3DEXPERIENCE EDU sales director for Japan and one of the Dassault Systèmes volunteers who mentored the six student teams. That made the Living Heritage challenge “a very unique opportunity to do something meaningful.”
The project “is a way to bring back to life, to bring back into focus, ancient knowledge that our civilizations no longer possess,” said Dragos Dascalu, Euronorth industry process consultant and mentor to the Netherlands team, which modeled Pompeii.
“Seeing students use the platform in ways that even I hadn’t anticipated, and validating that we’re building the right stuff, that was super cool,” said Sam O’Neill, 3DEXPERIENCE Works industry process consultant and mentor to the USA team.
Pedro Diez Cocero, industry solutions experience manager for 3DS in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry, and mentor to the Mexico team said “I found myself playing with the idea of how I would tackle the challenge myself, and that made me think that I could help students to deliver the challenge.”
A TREASURE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The students’ comments about their experiences are evidence that their mentors, the history they unearthed and the sites they modeled affected how they see history’s relevance to life today.
“Getting a chance to recreate one of the most iconic buildings in the world was really inspiring for us,” said Shoumik Kundu, student leader of the USA team that modeled the Roman Colosseum. “We’ve all read in our textbooks about how so many naval battles were re-created [there]. Romans would go there for entertainment. We wanted to kind of re-create that.”
“The Hanging Gardens are one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and for us the most mysterious one,” said Ibarra, leader of the Hanging Gardens team. “We don’t have proof that they ever existed; we only have some ancient text. To solve this, we had to use our imagination and creativity to create a model that we believe the Hanging Gardens looked like.”
“Looking back at these sites is very valuable,” Kappert said of his team’s work on Pompeii. “There’s still some stuff to be found and some great details to be discovered.”
Sometimes, as for Fraeser, those discoveries are personal – and emotional.
“To experience the 3D model of Porta Nigra through virtual reality . . . it is an incredible experience,” he said. “I hope that others can feel the same thing that I feel when I stand in front of (our virtual model of) the Porta Nigra.”
If they do, the teams have indeed created a treasure for future generations.