Voyager – The Smithsonian’s Open Source 3D Storytelling Platform

Throughout human history we have used a near-infinite range of tools to share our knowledge and insight into the world around us. Hand drawings bring the natural world into sharper focus. Microscopes and telescopes bring the unseen into view. Photography and video make it possible to capture a moment in time and share it with virtually anyone. These methods have one common quality: They are two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional world. However, with the recent development of noncontact three-dimensional (3-D) scanning devices, our ability to document the world has been revolutionized. 

The Smithsonian Institution has a massive collection of over 154 million objects but less than 1% can ever be on physical display in our museums. Our goal is to unlock more of these objects and specimens using 3-D viewing technology. But we don’t want users to simply spin an object on screen, that would be boring as hell, we want to use the 3-D model as a tool for learning and discovery. To achieve the goal using a 3-D model as a scaffolding for storytelling the Smithsonian embarked upon the creation of an open source 3-D viewer that is now freely available to other museums, learning institutions, and commercial entities worldwide. This tool is called Voyager. Unlike in the past when we leveraged proprietary 3-D viewing solutions with little to no control over the functionality we are now in full control of this tool’s development and we’re catering the functionality towards the GLAM sector. 

Voyager plugs into the Smithsonian’s pipeline which is also open source. As part of our pipeline Voyager has a Quality Control mode that allows the Smithsonian team to quickly vet 3-D scans for quality and set a standard or custom presentation of the 3-D scene (orient position, adjust lighting, camera and environment), if there are issues with the 3-D data we then send the data back to a technician to resolve, if there are no issues we move onto the next step of authoring content. In Voyager authoring mode we can add annotations, attach articles, and create tours which are snapshots of the 3-D scene that we can step through and tell a story by zooming into different areas of interest and by attaching other types of media such as text, imagery or video. 

Voyager is available to download on GitHub along with our other 3-D pipeline tools for automating some of the processing of 3-D data (Cook) and our prototype 3-D repository (Packrat). 

This implementation and current state of Voyager is only the beginning. We hope to work collaboratively with other institutions, such as the Library of Congress who is using Voyager on their website, and encourage others to contribute and help us create a 3-D storytelling platform for the entire community.