Dassault Systèmes, with their Passion for Innovation program, is emerging as a major player in bringing cutting edge technology to the field of Egyptology. Whether you are talking about creating immersive 3D environments to simulate tombs and monuments, fusing non-invasive surveying techniques to high-definition imagery, or simply bringing the most interesting Egyptian people, places, and things to the widest audience possible, Dassault Systèmes’ Mehdi Tayoubi is at the forefront with some new technology.
I promised I would try to get another chapter of Hemienu to Houdin out before leaving for Paris and the premier of Khufu Reborn, but in these last days it just became too impractical. Part of what makes the series so fun and informative is my fairly unrestricted access to the man himself, Jean-Pierre Houdin. But as he and the team from Dassault Systèmes make the final arrangements at la Géode, Jean-Pierre’s time has become an increasingly rare commodity. Besides, in a couple of days I will be able to talk with him face-to-face without feeling like I am imposing on his schedule.
So the series will conclude when I return from the conference and coverage of “Episode 2: Khufu Reborn” will begin in earnest. But in the meanwhile I am offering this excellent insider’s glimpse into how Dassault Systèmes became involved with Jean-Pierre and future directions we can anticipate. My good friend and fellow Egyptology blogger (still hate that word), Marc Chartier, proprietor of the Pyramidales website, recently had the opportunity to interview Mehdi Tayoubi, Director of Interactive Innovation at Dassault Systèmes.
By a special arrangement with Marc I have translated the interview from its original French and am presenting it here in its entirety for my English-language readers. The original interview, in French, is available from Pyramidales here.
Dassault Systèmes is widely recognized as a world leader specializing in creating 3D virtual worlds serving the purposes of businesses of all sizes and in all sectors of industry, and the Passion for Innovation program, launched in 2005, has been spearheading this effort. Conceived as a pool for spawning new ideas and applications for 3D technology, the Passion for Innovation program has been providing tools and technical support to individuals and nonprofit organizations and institutions to allow them to explore and convey their ideas.
The Passion for Innovation program currently supports projects as diverse as the accomplished sailor and navigator Michel Desjoyeaux’s challenge to design a new monohull vessel in less than six months (check out the 3D virtual tour of M. Desjoyeaux and Team Fonica’s success) to George Mougin’s vision to tap icebergs as a resource for people without access to potable water (check out the Ice Dream project here). And, of course, the work of architect Jean-Pierre Houdin—Khufu Revealed.
The team at Passion for Innovation has demonstrated their commitment to the field of Egyptology not only with the work of Jean-Pierre, but in their involvement with Peter Der Manuelian’s Giza Archives Project and the Djedi robot project headed up by Shaun Whitehead.
Dassault Systems has become adept at the art of combining cutting edge technology with the antiquity of Egypt. Through the virtual world of 3D we come to a better understanding of and appreciation for the ingenuity of the pyramid builders. The Passion for Innovation team’s expertise in this endeavor continues to grow.
To help us better understand this “passion”, this engagement with projects aimed at a better understanding of the civilization of ancient Egypt, Mehdi Tayoubi, Director of Interactive Innovation at Dassault Systems and of the Passion for Innovation program, has kindly offered to answer some questions from Pyramidales. Again, I would like to cordially thank him for his time.
Pyramidales: The Khufu Revealed project, which will very soon see important and substantial developments, was quickly integrated into the Passion for Innovation program. How did this unusual bridge between an ancient civilization and highly developed modern technology come to be? How did you arrive at Egypt?
Mehdi Tayoubi: In 2005 we created the Passion for Innovation program in order to make our technologies and expertise in virtual worlds and 3D simulation available for innovative projects.
The work of Jean-Pierre Houdin was the first project that came to our attention. Immediately after the detailed presentation of his theory to Richard Breitner and myself we realized that the Egyptians who were the subject of his work were the engineers of their time who had to accomplish the feat of building the Great Pyramid. Using the know-how of their time, they had to organize an industrial project on the same scale as Dassault Systems’ largest clients today in sectors such as automotive, aviation, and “fast moving consumer goods” manufacturing.
Our customers use virtual environments every day to design in 3D, to work in groups in order to test their products and design the implementation processes that will bring their products to life in the real world. The virtual world allows them to anticipate and simulate all potential conditions and how their product will perform before the actual implementation of that product in the real world.
Like architects such as Frank Gehry, who use our software to create buildings that break with traditional architecture and borrow from the processes and methods of the industrial world, we thought the best way to approach this challenge with Jean-Pierre was to treat the pyramid like one of our industrial sites: we would use our tools to simulate key stages of Jean-Pierre’s theory to test its consistency and see if it was possible to reconstruct a pyramid the same way.
Virtual worlds and 3D are tools that allow us to travel into the future, since they project and simulate the real lives of the products. But with the Khufu Revealed project we saw that they also offer, through the methods of reverse engineering, the opportunity to travel back in time and space.
What attracted us to Jean-Pierre’s work was the scientific nature of his theory: it may have started with intuition, but it has subsequently been fueled by long and tenacious reflection on all the methods used to reconstruct the pyramid from A to Z. Jean-Pierre’s ideas have been corroborated by evidence subsequently found in the terrain. This resulted in a theory we had the ability to simulate and verify with means available to us.
To put it simply and bluntly: if Jean-Pierre was right and the internal ramps are still there, it is simple to demonstrate their existence with light and non-invasive methods.
Pyramidales: The “virtual”, which is the basis of simulation techniques in 3D, is an isolated environment designed to allow you to represent “reality” as neutrally as possible, for example, our current knowledge of the techniques used to build the pyramids. Or does this also allow you to manipulate, so to speak, these objects to further interpret and develop your knowledge of them? In other words, are you content to represent the images visually and objectively—I almost said “passively”—or do you also simulate how these objects will behave over time?
Mehdi Tayoubi: We provide solutions by creating 3D modeling and simulation that is as close to reality as possible. When you design a car in the virtual world and simulate a crash test, the digital crash test must conform to reality to allow engineers to make decisions in terms of design. These same concepts can be used, for example, by manufacturers of baby diapers to simulate the flow of fluids.
We have likewise taken the mechanics, physics, and processes involved in Jean-Pierre’s theories and translated them into the virtual 3D world. The visual result of the application of our industrial tools to this task helped validate his work and refine his theories.
A concrete example of this is the analysis of the cracks in the King’s Chamber. Many assume or claim that the Egyptians raised the first ceiling and it immediately cracked. This hypothesis has opened the door to many conjectures (for example: the existence of another burial chamber as of yet undiscovered).
After a year spent in virtual contact the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom, we were left in wonder over how clever and organized they were, leaving nothing to chance: the construction of a room with a flat ceiling, with sixty-ton beams that had to be transported 900 km and raised to an elevation of more than 43 meters, these are not things that can be improvised. It was therefore impossible to believe the Egyptian builders had made an error, even in the presence of cracks in the King’s Chamber!
We therefore used simulation software and finite element analysis to recreate the cracks and simulate different hypotheses until we found the right combination of conditions that produced cracks in the virtual world identical to those in the real world.
The only solution we reached was the following: the cracking occurred only once the room was fully completed, with all its ceilings and masonry above it in place. The Egyptians had indeed made a mistake, but an extremely minor one. In any case, there was no reason to fear the burial chamber would collapse, and thus, no reason to build another. The room was nearly perfect!
Working in 3D allows you to see the world differently and ask new questions. This allows different hypotheses to emerge that we would not necessarily have thought of before. Once these hypotheses are realized, the simulation allows you to refine your work and develop new theories before establishing the protocols for validation in the real world. We see it every day, especially with the Giza 3D project: the 3D recreation of mastabas from the site at Giza requires our Egyptologist friends at Harvard to ask new questions.
Pyramidales: When Passion for Innovation becomes connected with a project you become not only partners, but more or less directly involved. But your belief in the feasibility of a project or a theory, which is necessary to get the ball rolling, sometimes involves controversial ideas. Are you required to actually take part in these debates? In the case that interests us most here, given the recurring conflicts within the field of Egyptology, and especially involving “pyramidology”, do you stay out of the “brawl”?
Mehdi Tayoubi: Many of the projects we support may seem iconoclastic. These are breakthrough projects, which require us to ask questions differently. The break in the case of Jean-Pierre and his father was simple: “Why toil to build the whole pyramid from the outside, why not attempt it from within!”
Our world needs innovation to solve the major challenges it faces. We are desperately short of engineers and we know that in many areas we will have to do things differently. We must encourage interdisciplinary meetings, fighting a priori. Virtual worlds and new tools allow these meetings, the special opportunities to collaborate and reflect, to develop new ideas without having to first create them in the real world. But virtual worlds are not an end in themselves, they must serve the real progress of knowledge and well-being. We hope through the projects we support to help others develop a taste and passion for innovation and to encourage more scientific vocations.
In the case of Jean-Pierre’s theory, so what if there is controversy! What matters is the journey, not the destination. To think differently about the problem is, no matter the outcome, to advance knowledge. What matters is that if one were to reconstruct the same pyramid—147 meters high, with a King’s Chamber topped with a flat ceiling, using the tools of the time—we know it could be done… All that remains is to check and see if the internal ramps are there [in the Great Pyramid] or not…
Egyptologists at Harvard University comprehend the spirit in which we work. They recognized the opportunities these new methods and tools offer for the advancement of their discipline and, in virtual worlds, a way of allowing different scientific specialties and audiences (researchers, academicians, the public…) to meet in real time. We have already equipped Harvard with a virtual reality room and Peter Der Manuelian, in front of a class equipped with 3D glasses, uses these tools to allow his students to experience new concepts as he is teaching.
This is also what we did with public schools at la Géode, transformed by our team into a virtual reality room. Three mornings a week students and their teachers enjoyed interactive lectures and experienced, through Kheops 3D, architecture, mechanics, history, and new technologies. It is my hope that this interactive 3D experience, through the story of Jean-Pierre, has given them a taste of the research and its challenges.
It is in this same spirit that we support the University of Leeds and Dr. Zahi Hawass with the Djedi mission. The robot that will investigate the shafts leading out of the Queen’s Chamber should work perfectly: it was designed and simulated with our tools. Again, whether this robot finds something or not, the important thing is to lead the expedition and mark the trail for future researchers who will continue to work on the Giza Plateau.
One must leave the petty quarrels and focus on helping the engineers and researchers in their passionate quest. On the Giza Plateau today, we support people who specialize in robotics and an architect who specializes in Egyptology.
Pyramidales: A consultation program connected with Passion for Innovation reveals how these challenges and projects relate to current events and applications. Even the Roman Velum project (techniques used by the Romans to protect spectators from the elements with huge curtains on their arena) can find a modern application. In this inventory, Khufu Revealed seems to be an exception. But if there are exceptions, how does it justify the “rule” of your goals?
Mehdi Tayoubi: A scientific approach, an expert in his field, passionate, highly motivated, and ready to roll up his sleeves with our team to advance knowledge: the examples are not simply an accumulation of these characteristics. When we meet a person who combines all these advantages, we try to go through with it, although our Passion for Innovation team is relatively small and we sometimes have to make tradeoffs.
The success of Khufu Revealed attracted a lot of attention from with Dassault Systèmes. Many of our engineers are now knocking on our door to offer us their assistance, beyond their official duties within the company.
We are confident that these new technologies could revolutionize many areas beyond the industry. The story is one among many. ”
Pyramidales: 3D imaging is currently the top technology for simulating reality in virtual terms and language. Do you intend to further develop and evolve these techniques? Could we not, for example, expect to see further pairing between 3D technology and non-invasive means of archaeological surveying, such as radar and microgravimetry? It is being used to undress departing passengers at airports. Can we hope to someday “undress” a not-entirely-random section of the Great Pyramid?
Mehdi Tayoubi: The technology for pairing data from the real world and our universe already exists. The means of transferring real-world data into the virtual world are numerous (radars, ground survey points, scanners, etc..).
Regarding the “undressing” of the pyramid, we are of course always gathering new data from the site to enhance our models and refine them. We conducted a theoretical undressing by simulating what a mission using infrared thermography should reveal if the internal ramps are there, but as any specialist in this field must do, we need to take measurements from the real world to corroborate the theoretical model. We have many partnerships in this area and on the Giza Plateau, we should be making some new announcements very soon.
Pyramidales: The format designed by your team of 3D professionals is now being used to present the theories developed by Jean-Pierre to the general public. You have mastered these techniques better than anyone else and have translated, for educational purposes, a very technical body of work in a rather spectacular manner. But do you fear this runs the risk of cloaking the true scientific scope of your work? Is it not possible that people will mistake your scientific analyses for simple entertainment?
Mehdi Tayoubi: I divide the 3D imagery work we have done with Jean-Pierre into two distinct worlds. First we used simulation tools for industrial and scientific tests to validate and refine his theory. Once this phase was completed we sought opportunities such as can be found at la Géode to share this theory with the greatest number of people we could and make 3D interactive a tool for learning, sharing and conveying emotion.
Copyright by Marc Chartier, 2011. All rights reserved.