Feb
02
2017

Digital Time Capsule of an Experimental Lighthouse

There are quite a number of structures unique to London: Big Ben, the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, to name a few. But even the most ardent of Londoners may not be aware of their city’s one and only lighthouse, which has been unassumingly tucked away in London’s East End since 1864. Maybe the lighthouse’s lack of acclaim is due to the fact that it doesn’t serve as a lighthouse at all.  Or that it never has, actually. From the outset, Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse served as an experimental hub for pioneering lighting techniques to be implemented in lighthouses and lightships along the entire coast of Great Britain. The lighthouse’s design and construction was the brainchild of Sir James Douglass, who is best known for his work on the fourth Eddystone lighthouse at Rame Head. But Douglass was far from the only eminent Briton to work at Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse. When oil and gas lighting were deemed obsolete, Michael Faraday, best known for his discoveries in electromagnetism, was commissioned to create and test different designs for electric lighting and lenses. He even set up a workshop on-site to have direct access to test his ideas.

lighthouse london blog pic

Beyond boasting an impressive historical record, the lighthouse is also an extremely well-preserved example of Victorian architecture, making it the perfect subject for a new technique in heritage preservation. It is an all too common and devastating development when a structure, which once stood in pristine condition, falls into such disrepair that it can no longer be visited or recognised. Any record that would have been pre-emptively collected would likely have been limited to photographs, written documents and short videos, none of which allow a visitor to experience the structure as it once stood.

Taking advantage of recent advances in cutting edge technology, a team of visual and audio engineers aims to change this trajectory. Using a laser scanner, the team first captures the dimensions of the structure of interest. The data is converted into a 3D model which is then rendered into a virtual reality environment. Using a virtual reality headset, a user is able to effectively “step into” the structure as if walking around the actual site. Strategically placed audio clips inform the user of the structure’s history, so he or she is left with a very powerful, immersive sensory experience highlighting the structure’s beauty and historical context. The team hopes that the project will set a precedent for heritage preservation so that more people can explore a repository of heritage sites as they currently stand rather than after they have fallen derelict, scattered as fragments, overgrown and forgotten.

To create the digital model, Adrian (pictured) used the FARO 3D X130 tripod-mounted laser scanner to gather point cloud data at 2mm precision of the entire exterior and interior of the lighthouse and adjoining chain store. The efficiency of the scanning allowed a general scan to be obtained in less than 6 hours.  For the more detailed objects like the singing bowls in the picture, Adrian used a FARO Scanner Freestyle3D. It’s hand-held design allows the user to capture all sides of an object in a single sweep rather than through multiple re-adjustments of a static scanner. The smaller size of Freestyle 3D also allows accessibility into hard-to-reach nooks and crannies that might prove impossible to capture with a static scanner. The only downside is looking like you are performing new-age yoga while gathering data. But who really cares when the data come out so darn good?

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