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Google shares and preserves art with gigapixel Art Camera

Tue 17 May 2016

Google has created a custom-built robotic Art Camera that makes the production of ultra-high resolution ‘gigapixel’ pictures possible. Prior to the Art Camera’s release, in five years, the Google Cultural Institute was only able to produce and share 200 gigapixel images. Today, with the help of the Art Camera, that number has jumped to over 1000.

A gigapixel is made of over one billion pixels, and is valued because it can provide a level of detail that is unavailable even to the naked eye.

port of rotterdam

Previously, the process of taking an ultra-high resolution picture was a complicated technical procedure. Only a few experts worldwide, using extremely specialized and expensive equipment, could perform the task manually.

The Art Camera, however, speeds up the process greatly by automating the most labor-intensive of the tasks. The Art Camera is a robotic camera that automatically moves from one detail to the next, taking hundreds of high-resolution close-up photos of the details of a picture, using both laser and sonar to ensure that the focus of each individual image is correct.

Once the detail is captured, software is deployed that takes thousands of close up shots of each detail and then composes the individual shots into a cohesive whole.

One of the main advantages of having a library of ultra-high resolution artwork is providing access to art worldwide. The example provided is of a person who wants to view Van Gogh’s portraits of the Roulin family. Previously, in order to view all six paintings one would have to travel through the Netherlands, to Paris’ Musee d’Orsay, to Los Angeles and New York to see all paintings in person, which was the only way to observe them in detail. Now, one can view all of the portraits from a regular computer or mobile device, immediately, side by side.

image-google-art-camera-gigapixelIn addition to providing access to great works of art, the Art Camera will also allow for their preservation. Paintings are fragile, and while museums are extraordinarily careful to control light and humidity for preservation, they are still vulnerable. Images captured with the Google Art Camera are intended to be available for viewing and study for years to come.

The first thousand images, released today, include works from museums all over the world, from masters such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and hundreds more. The collection is available on the Google Cultural Institute web page. The Google Cultural Institute is also responsible for the online sharing of cultural heritage sites using Google Street View technology, and Historic Moments, which use text and photos to educate users on significant events in human history.

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