3D technology enhances seabed exploration

24 Oct 2013
La Lune's exploration is also a test site for new techniques of working with advanced equipment under the sea

La Lune's exploration is also a test site for new techniques of working with advanced equipment under the sea

The French Navy, 3D pioneers Dassault Systèmes, and archaeologist Michel L'hour with his team are using innovative Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE technology to explore, record and recover artefacts from a wreck site 300 feet below the surface.

The underwater archaeology is centred on the Sun King, Louis the Fourteenth's ship, La Lune (The Moon), which sank in 1664 off the coast of Toulon, France. The immaculately preserved ship provides a trove of 60,000 different objects.

La Lune's exploration is also a test site for new techniques of working with advanced equipment under the sea. The team's work and findings therefore have significant implications for all future deep seabed research and activity.

The impact on underwater archaeology of innovative 3D technology is revealing not just the past but also the future of our underwater planet. Exploring the seabed and its treasures using the power of virtual reality is allowing people to interact with the world’s last frontier. Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE Technology is, for the first time ever, enabling finds from hundreds of feet under the sea to be explored and accurately recorded and shared among experts and the public.

Using a prototype underwater camera aboard an ROV, the 420m2 La Lune wreck site is being captured with absolute accuracy in realistic 3D. The results are then shared with 3DEXPERIENCE technology. Using special Virtual Reality (VR) helmets and controls, the team enters the site to explore and experience it safely on dry land or aboard their command vessel.

The research vessel is equipped with a 1.5m2 digital desk which displays the finds as they are collected and acts as the project's nerve centre. Using this single source of data they collaborate to develop their discovery and recovery strategy and refine its detail and tactics, without disturbing the site. Subsequent physical exploration uses Dassault Systèmes virtual reality training technology that optimizes diver and equipment efficiency while minimizing potential damage and danger.

The La Lune team has access to a remarkable Newt Suit. This metal carapace allows an aquanaut to descend nearly 1000 feet and potentially stay there for up to 48 hours. Often used to help raise torpedoes, there are only 24 such suits in the world. They allow much more accuracy and delicate handling than a remote controlled submarine.

For crew training, the team uses immersive 3D experiences to make the most of the Newt Suit and other valuable submersible resources. Cedric Simard Dassault Systèmes La Lune Project Director said: "Training on equipment and artefact recovery techniques in a virtual environment maximizes efficiency underwater. By improving time usage and handling accuracy on the sea bed where every second counts, the greatest gains are made."

Michel L'hour added: "Immersive 3D technology allows us to float over the site in a virtual deep sea. Never before has the seabed been viewed with such clarity. It's like being in the water trying out tools and techniques without the problems. We can practice and perfect all our manoeuvres on dry land."

The team hopes to recover cannons and delicate pottery jars and plates, water bottles and musical instruments. However, after 350 years on the seabed, if they are not treated immediately they will disintegrate. Dassault Systèmes technology is deployed to generate 3D models of objects in-situ. Access to these realistic and accurately defined 3D digital models and their environments allows conservationists to better understand and plan for their recovery and preservation when they are brought to the surface.

This permanent 3D record is developing, with other project resources and data, into a virtual time machine that allows people to see stages of La Lune's existence at any date. A wealth of La Lune project finds is already available online at: http://www.operationlune.com/en/technologies/ so that archaeologists, academics, and the public can explore La Lune for themselves without getting wet.