Online virtual reality experience recreates World War II shipwreck

London: Scientists have developed a new online virtual reality experience that lets users explore a Second World War shipwreck, which carried hundreds of tonnes of supplies. Researchers, including those from University of Nottingham in the UK, combined a highly detailed 3D model of the sunken ship, based on thousands of photographs, with 360-degree underwater video of divers exploring key sections of the wreck.

One of the most famous shipwreck-diving sites in the world, the British freighter SS Thistlegorm was a British
armed Merchant Navy ship sunk by German bombers in 1941 near the Gulf of Suez at the northern end of the Red Sea. At the time, the ship was carrying hundreds of tonnes of Allied war supplies – including tanks, train engines, trucks and motorcycles – to the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

Until now, only divers would be able to directly see most of the world’s underwater heritage sites. However, with
virtual reality technology, the wider public can now experience the shipwreck, researchers said. “There are something like six million divers in the world, so less than 0.1 per cent of the world’s population ever gets access to these sites,” Jon Henderson, a marine archaeologist at the University of Nottingham told ‘Live Science’.

“But 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,” he said. Archaeologists spent five days moored above the Thistlegorm wreck. They made 12 dives to the Thistlegorm wreck totaling more than 13 hours underwater and gathered thousands of photographs.

The team later processed and combined images of the shipwreck with photogrammetric software, which can extract 3D data from sets of 2D photographs. The result was the highly detailed 3D model of the giant wreck, based on 24,307 photographic images – the largest photogrammetric survey yet made of a shipwreck, covering an area of about 28,300 square metres.