24 Oct 2017
Thistlegorm Project: 360-degree online VR tour of British WWII shipwreck
Scientists comprehensively digitized a World War II shipwreck to develop an online Virtual Reality experience, allowing users to explore one of the world's most famous shipwreck-diving sites, the British freighter SS Thistlegorm.
The online tour combines the sunken ship's highly-detailed 3D-model (developed on the basis of thousands of photos) with a 360-degree underwater video showing divers exploring important parts of the wreck.
Explore WWII shipwreck in stunning detail
About the British freighter SS Thistlegorm
In 1941, German bombers had sunk the British freighter SS Thistlegorm, an armed Merchant Navy ship, near the Gulf of Suez at the Red Sea's northern end.
At that time, the ship was carrying hundreds of tons of war supplies for the Allies, including tanks, trucks, train engines, motorcycles, etc. to Egypt's Alexandria.
The Thistlegorm became a famous shipwreck-diving site in the 1990s.
360-degree video, the closest thing to actual diving: Henderson
Thistlegorm Project's Coordinator Jon Henderson is a Marine Archaeologist at the UK's University of Nottingham.
Henderson said until now only divers could explore underwater heritage sites. He added there are around six million divers in the world, less than 0.1% of the world's total population.
He said with VR, the wider public can get access to the shipwrecks and other underwater sites.
Divers, archeologists moored over the Thistlegorm wreck
Several researchers, including some from the University of Nottingham and Egypt's Alexandria University, worked on the virtual experience project.
For collecting pictures to develop a 3D model of the shipwreck, a team of divers and marine archeologists spent five days mooring over the shipwreck site.
The team made 12 dives and spent more than 13 hours underwater to gather thousands of high-quality pictures.
Largest photogrammetric survey of a shipwreck
The researchers processed the collected images of the Thistlegorm shipwreck and combined them using photogrammetric software that extracts 3D data from 2D photograph sets.
After the process, they were left with a "highly detailed 3D model" of the giant Thistlegorm shipwreck, based on as many as 24,307 photographs.
It is the largest photogrammetric survey of a shipwreck so far, covering 28,300 square meters.
Thistlegorm Project Coordinator Jon Henderson's statement
Henderson said: "It's an absolutely amazing wreck to dive. There's the cargo - Bedford trucks, armored vehicles, motorcycles, Bren guns, ammunition, aircraft parts and the massive steam locomotives on the decks themselves. Every time you dive on it, you find something else."
Henderson inspired by 360-degree underwater video of coral reef
Henderson said, "We are now at the point where we have got technology where we can reconstruct them in photo-realistic detail, and we can now create models that people can explore and interact with on their mobile phones or in their homes."