Digital Documentation for Heritage Preservation: DC Symposium

I was fortunate enough to attend NCPTT’s Digital Documentation for Heritage Preservation Symposium yesterday, hosted by Mount Vernon. There were some pretty cool people there, including a group from the National Park Service (I got into a great conversation about diversity in parks with a young woman from NPS) and some architecture firms specializing in historic preservation. In my past, I worked at Monticello as an intern sorting through all of their old architecture documents (random side note: I once found a signed letter from Franklin Roosevelt while working), so I’m very interested in overlaps between technology and historical preservation.

There were two lectures that really stood out to me. Firstly, there was the HABS, HAER, HALS lecture by Richard O’Connor from NPS. Richard first discussed how HABS, which was developed 1933, set a precedent for documentation standards in preservation. He also discussed how HABS, HAER, HALS were the first heritage documentation programs to be digitized due to their value for K-12 education (apparently before this, you would have to go to the Library of Congress to view any of the documents). He then spoke on the pros and cons to laser scanning and digital documentation over manual documentation. He told us that some issues with laser scanning were that 1) people working with laser scanners had to have a clear understanding of the tech and specific training on how to use both the hardware and software and 2) there is a huge amount of data that comes from laser scanning a site, therefore an office must have high computing power to handle and sort the data. On the other side, laser scanning is extremely useful for fragile resources. Some sites won’t let preservationists conduct manual documentation because the site is easily damaged, whereas laser scanning is not disruptive and allows data capture in a timely manner. My office at the Department of State hopes to digitally preserve our overseas buildings, so conversations on laser scanning are particularly interesting to me.

The second lecture was led my Terry Kilby regarding drones being used to capture 3D data. Terry owns and runs his own drone company called Elevated Elements-he’s collected 3D data on multiple Baltimore sites using his drones. Currently, most drones use photogrammetry, which means taking photos in a grid pattern with 70-80% overlap to capture a site. He also discussed how some drones will utilize laser scanning capture in the future, which I thought was really cool. And just recently, sense and avoid drones were developed, meaning the drones will sense an obstruction in their flight path and move around it. Though I’ve never personally flown a drone, the technology is something I am interested in (specifically because 3D printing drone components is possible nowadays).

Overall, a great lecture series! I’m looking forward to seeing where this tech moves in the future.