Iconem: visit inaccessible archaeological sites in 3D


From Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Leptis in Libya… more than 200 archeological wonders, many of which are currently inaccessible, have been modelled in 3D by Iconem, a start-up founded by architect Yves Ubelmann. This scientific work is now “open” to the general public for free.

Can you “pitch” Iconem in a few words?

Yves Ubelmann : Iconem (opens in a new window) is a start-up founded in 2013 to preserve cultural heritage and in particular threatened sites and monuments using the latest imaging technology. We work a lot in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. We use 3D imaging and image processing with AI to create digital copies of archaeological sites. We take on projects at the request of archaeologists who wish to use our modelling technology to support their scientific research.

What is the benefit to the general public?

Yves Ubelmann : Our core business consists of producing documentation and data for scientific use. What’s more, we’ve found the images we create are very realistic and enable us to offer virtual tours to the general public. We therefore held exhibitions at the Grand Palais in Paris, then in Washington. More recently, during the lockdown, we opened up online access via app.iconem.com, a beta website that enables virtual tours to around 20 sites including the extraordinary Roman settlement of Leptis Magna in Syria. One of our commitments is to make sites such as these, which are difficult or impossible to access, available to as many people as possible. 

Will your virtual tours remain available to the general public after the crisis situation?

Yves Ubelmann : More than ever. This crisis, but also the challenge of sustainable development and tourist overcrowding in some places, is prompting everyone to rethink modes of travel and access to cultural sites. There are increasingly immersive 3D experiences available for museums and tourist traps. With this in mind, we’re also working on Angkor Wat and Giza pyramids.

Has this crisis changed the way you work?

Yves Ubelmann : Yes, in terms of taking photos on site. Now we work via a network of local photographers and drone operators, whom we train remotely and who then send us the images. We’ll continue to pursue this greener approach, which is also more respectful of local economies.

Iconem and Orange, a relationship built on solid foundations

“Before the lockdown, we had been considering with Orange creating a Notre-Dame virtual tour. This may resume. In any case, Orange – like all digital companies – provides us with computing power and AI solutions to develop our 3D modelling technology.”