But while this may just sound like a fun way to interact with history, the initiative, backed by industry heavyweight Autodesk, could very soon have practical, revolutionary applications for architecture as well.
According to Market Watch, The Smithsonian asked Autodesk to build the x3D Explorer in order to democratize access to their collections and bring them to life for their visitors. When users open the Wright Brothers' 1903 aircraft, for example, they can now explore the design of its engine or wings, zooming/rotating the model for better viewing.
What's more, the technology will also facilitate the downloading and 3D Printing of these objects as well, putting these once untouchable artifacts in the hands of students and adults across the globe.
The applications to architecture are of course clear. While many have already begun to use technology to digitally preserve the world's greatest (and most vulnerable) sites of architecture (most notably Ben Kacyra), Autodesk's backing of this technology suggests that it will become far more prevalent in our daily lives - and not just in the realm of preservation.
Consider: in the next few years architecture students researching the Villa Savoye or Seagram Building will not turn to plans, nor texts, nor even wikipedia, but rather an open-source 3D model of the building itself, with "hotspots" of information that explain its structure, material, or innovative layout. Consider that, upon downloading the building, they could have it 3D printed, instantly, and hold it in their hands.
It's something we've already considered at length here at ArchDaily - in fact, our recent 3D Printing Challenge tasked our readers with 3D modeling an AD Classic of their choice (for the chance to win a 3D printed model of their creation).
What's more, as the NY Daily News points out, the Smithsonian is already attempting to implement this 3-D technology within the museum itself, with projections of augmented reality that would help to "bring dinosaurs or historical figures to life in an exhibit." Imagine as 3D images of architecture could be projected into physical space, presenting another way in which students, museum-goers, or even clients could interact with and understand architecture.
Increasingly, it seems, the future of architectural modeling is virtual. And now, with Autodesk behind the movement, the future could be closer than we think.