University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Hands-Off: Using Kinect to virtually query the ancient Maya city of Copan, Honduras
Heather Richards-Rissetto, Jim Robertsson, Giorgio Agugiaro, Fabio Remondino, Gabrio Girardi, Jennifer von Schwerin, Maurizio Forte

Last modified: 2012-03-18


In this paper we explore the potential of using Microsoft’s Kinect to virtually navigate the ancient Maya city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Copan, Honduras through a prototype tool—called QueryArch3D. Developed as part of the MayaArch3D Project (, which explores the possibilities of integrating GIS and 3D digital tools for research and teaching on ancient architecture and landscapes, the QueryArch3D tool allows users to search and query segmented 3D models that are linked to attribute data stored in a spatial database via a virtual reality landscape that runs on the Unity 3 game engine. The virtual landscape of Copan—derived from GIS data—covers 24 km2 and contains 3d schematic models of over 3,000 ancient structures, a Studio 3D Max model of a temple from the city’s main civic-ceremonial complex, and reality-based models of sculpture and stelae linked to archaeological data.

While QueryArch3D has been developed for online use in a browser, we are exploring potential offline uses, particularly those useful for educating the public about cultural heritage in the ancient Americas. A promising avenue is the development of a public exhibit that employs Kinect—a multi-purpose sensor—as a human computer interface that uses the human body, rather than a keyboard or mouse, to navigate the 3D environment of Copan. Using the Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST)—developed at the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California—we have integrated the Kinect to the QueryArch3D tool. Because QueryArch3D links the 3D visualization to underlying archaeological data, public audiences can use gestures to interact with information stored in the spatial database calling up photos, videos, textual descriptions as they move through the virtual space of ancient Copan. Users can also measure distances and line-of-sight between ancient buildings as well as perform spatial queries to highlight subsets of 3D models within the virtual landscape. We have found that enabling users (via Kinect) to move through ancient Copan without touching the keyboard or mouse creates a sense of embodiment, and this combined with the unique capability of QueryArch3D to link 3D models to underlying archaeological data offers an interactive and engaging experience for public audiences in which they take an active role in their exploration of cultural heritage.  We will discuss the strengths, limitations, and challenges of linking Kinect to the QueryArch3D tool including its ability to meet our educational goals.


Virtual Reality; Public Outreach; GIS; 3D Modelling