Using a robotic arm to scan the Iliad

Using a robotic arm to scan the Iliad

Summary: According to Wired News, computer scientists from the University of Kentucky (UKY) recently went to Venice, Italy, to scan 'Venetus A,' the 10th century manuscript of Homer's Iliad. They've used a 39-mexapixel Hasselblad camera to take pictures of the famous manuscript and a laser mounted on a robotic arm to create 3-D images of the 645-page parchment book. As the text is handwritten, it's not easily readable by ordinary people. But Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies plans to produce XML transcriptions of the text and to put them online.

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According to Wired News, computer scientists from the University of Kentucky (UKY) recently went to Venice, Italy, to scan 'Venetus A,' the 10th century manuscript of Homer's Iliad. They've used a 39-mexapixel Hasselblad camera to take pictures of the famous manuscript and a laser mounted on a robotic arm to create 3-D images of the 645-page parchment book. As the text is handwritten, it's not easily readable by ordinary people. But Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies plans to produce XML transcriptions of the text and to put them online.

The first lines of Homer's Iliad

And this will not be an easy task. You can see above the first lines of Homer's Iliad photographed from the Venetus A manuscript. (Credit for photo: Center for Hellenic Studies) [This picture is the last one of set of eight which are included in this Wired News slideshow.]

Matt Field, graduate student, and Brent Seales, an associate professor working for the UKY's Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments, were part of a team working to create a high-resolution, 3-D copy of the 645-page parchment book.

The idea is "to use our 3-D data to create a 'virtual book' showing the Venetus in its natural form, in a way that few scholars would ever be able to access," says Matt Field, a University of Kentucky researcher who scanned the pages. "It's not often that you see this kind of collaboration between the humanities and the technical fields."

After the manuscript was -- very carefully -- photographed for the first time since 1901, using "a 39-megapixel digital camera, a Hasselblad H1 medium-format camera with a Phase One P45 digital back," Field had to scan the pages to create 3-D images of each page.

But because the manuscript is so fragile, it was impossible to use an ordinary scanner. So Seales and Field decided to use the Laser ScanArm, sold by FARO Technologies Inc., mounted on a robotic arm.

Passing about an inch from the surface, the laser rapidly scanned back and forth, painting the page with laser light. The robot arm knows precisely where in space its "hand" is, creating a precise map of each page as it scans. The data is fed into a CAD program that renders an image of the manuscript page with all its crinkles and undulations.

of course, as you have seen above, even if the images are incredibly crisp, they will not be easily readable by people like you and me. "So, this summer a group of graduate and undergraduate students of Greek will gather at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., to produce XML transcriptions of the text." Then their work will be posted online.

Sources: Amy Hackney Blackwell, Wired News, June 5, 2007; and various websites

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