Preservationists are racing against the clock to identify and document thousands of unique landmarks before the historical and cultural information they contain is lost forever. The threatened destruction of these unique sites can be due to natural causes such as earthquakes, tornadoes and coastal flooding, and to human activities such as war, terrorism, arson and urban sprawl. Although well-known tourist attractions such as the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico and the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado are fairly well protected, countless small local sites are bound to disappear over time as a result of neglect and lack of funding.

In 2003, the Kacyra Family Foundation created Cyber Archive, or CyArk, to focus on digital preservation, public education and cultural tourism related to heritage sites worldwide. Ben Kacyra’s background with laser scanning and 3D modeling made using technology to tell cultural stories a natural choice. In the 1990s, Kacyra’s firm, Cyra Technologies, patented and brought to market an integrated system of high resolution 3D laser scanning and point cloud software. The goal was to develop a portable, eye-safe, highly accurate and affordable scanner unit, along with the necessary processing and visualization software. Although he originally intended the 3D technology to serve the architecture/engineering/construction, plant management and media/entertainment industries, Kacyra recognized that the technology could also be used to document heritage sites with a high level of accuracy. By using a variety of available tools, CyArk creates permanent records of historic sites in case of an unexpected disaster, making the data available to assist with ongoing physical preservation and reconstruction.

“We are experiencing a confluence of technology,” says Kacyra. “The advanced 3D laser scanning systems, plus more powerful PCs, 3D graphics and high definition digital photography allow us to document sites at an unprecedented level of detail and present the information as a comprehensive virtual educational experience.”

Effective data management is a key factor in CyArk’s success, and like anyone working with laser scanners, they have had to develop processes to efficiently store and retrieve large data files. For example, the Taos Pueblo Project in Taos, N. M., generated 2.32 TB and 49,854 files. In 10 days at the site, workers collected 11.6 billion points at 273 scan locations. In total, the project covered 43,257 square miles. At Chankillo in Casma, Peru, in a 15-day period, workers collected 11.2 billion points at 538 scan locations covering 304,748 square miles, creating 2.79 TB of data in 85,113 files. Data is stored in the CyArk archives and made available to site managers and the public via the online portal, which handled 1.5 million viewers last year.

CyArk has also focused its efforts on developing visualization tools that maximize the value of the data. By offering a multitude of "deliverables" including CAD drawings, High Dynamic Range photographs, accurate 3D point clouds and multimedia content, CyArk strives to meet the needs of a variety of users. Visualization tools, such as high-accuracy fly-throughs and 3D models with HD photography overlaid on the “clouds of points” for texture and color, enhance the user experience. A 3D viewer can display point clouds in real time and allows cutting sections and extracting dimensions. CyArk has also developed mobile apps for narrative virtual tours.

CyArk follows a preservation process that includes setting up technology centers with local partners. By sharing technology with interested universities and colleges, the program is sustainable after CyArk completes the initial data collection. Local people are trained to conduct the digital and physical preservation work and are given the necessary tools to do so.  The CyArk partner network expands every time a new project is identified. Partners provide the latest equipment and software and donate the funding necessary to support projects all over the world. To accelerate progress, the CyArk 500 Challenge will be formally launched in October 2013, announcing a goal of documenting 500 heritage sites over the next five years. Cultural heritage, technology and philanthropy leaders from around the world will be called upon to help meet this goal.

In the face of the accelerating rate of damage to heritage sites due to global unrest and population explosion, it is Kacyra and his wife Barbara’s love for history and architecture that drive them to maintain the information through digital preservation for their children and grandchildren.