New tech brings world famous Antarctic fruitcake to life

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Wednesday, May 31, 2023

New tech brings world famous Antarctic fruitcake to life
Antarctic Heritage Trust Programme Manager (Artefacts) Lizzie Meek with conserved items from the Cape Adare huts. Photo: AHT.

CHRISTCHURCH.- A 110 year old fruitcake that was found almost perfectly preserved in Antarctica’s first huts is among several historic artefacts that have been brought to life in 3D.

New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust has launched a world-class augmented reality app, which brings six artefacts from Carsten Borchgrevink’s huts to life.

The other artefacts include a bone toothbrush, a leather boot and a tin of marmalade (which explorers sometimes ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Hundreds of digital scans (like photos) were taken of each artefact and then turned into augmented reality – a 3D image – using a process called photogrammetry.

The Trust’s General Manager Operations and Communications Francesca Eathorne expects there’ll be enormous interest in the app given news of the fruitcake’s discovery in 2017 went all around the world.

“Thousands of articles in more than 90 countries were written about that fruitcake – more than a billion people saw those stories and now they can see the fruitcake itself, in ‘virtual real life’, wherever and whenever they want to.”

The app enables users to look through their smart device and see the artefacts in 3D right in front of them. They can rotate the item and lean in for a closer look while listening to commentary about why it was important to the expedition.

The items were among more than a thousand artefacts the Trust’s international experts conserved at a laboratory at Canterbury Museum, in Christchurch New Zealand.

The conservation project is part of the Trust’s long running cold-climate conservation work, the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project (which also includes caring for Scott’s and Shackleton’s huts).

Francesca Eathorne says it’s very exciting to be able to bring the artefacts to life and share their stories with people around the world.

“These artefacts connect us to the first explorers in Antarctica who, over a century ago, undertook important scientific work and exploration on behalf of humankind.

Their curiosity about the world, their resilience in such a harsh environment and their passion to learn more about the world they lived in, continue to be inspiring today.”

“This digital platform enables us to keep these stories alive and we hope, encourage others to go out and explore.”

The process of making the app began with digitally scanning the artefacts in 3D; this was done by Australian Tim Handfield of Handfield & Bell Digitising Consultants.

Hundreds of images were created for each artefact, which were then turned into augmented reality by New Zealand-based company Staples VR.

Staples VR CEO Aliesha Staples says being able to bring Antarctica to the world using emerging technology, such as augmented reality, in a photorealistic way makes this project not only technically challenging but incredibly important to do right.

“Using our photogrammetry processes to develop the 3D artefacts has been a privilege. We know how few people get to see these artefacts and we have been able to bring these digitally to the world in the most real way."

The app has bonus content such as videos, photo galleries and blogs that can also be accessed, which share interesting stories of the early explorers’ expeditions and the Trust’s conservation work at site today.

The second experience in the AR app is an Explorer Journal, created by 20 year-old Anzac Gallate, who has been obsessed with Antarctica since he was 10.

After a trip to the Ice with Antarctic Heritage Trust in 2020 he came up with the idea for his Explorer Journal using augmented reality so children can explore Antarctica without leaving their country. It activates off the free downloadable Explorer Journal available on the Trust’s website.

Anzac took inspiration from historic explorer journals for the project.

“Using the app, pictures on the page come to life, like in Harry Potter. I can’t wait to see students using it to explore this incredible place. They can stand in penguin colonies, come face to face with seals, and paddle past whales. They can go from viewing 360 videos to doing crafts activities and journaling, all in the same experience."

Anzac was among a group of young people selected to travel to the Antarctic Peninsula in March 2020 as part of the Trust’s Inspiring Explorers Expedition .

While there, he navigated icebergs while kayaking part of the Peninsula and explored glaciers and penguin colonies.

Francesca says the app was created to open a window to an environment that many will never get the chance to venture to but that plays a crucial role in our lives.

“Given the way the world is right now, encouraging exploration in our backyards is so important, and we can’t wait to see how the app stimulates the natural curiosity children have for their surroundings and for Antarctica.”

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