Intel drones offer high-tech help to restore the Great Wall of China

intel drones conservation great wall china
Andre Distel/Getty Images

Tourists visiting the Great Wall of China are usually taken to one of the small number of restored sections, but many parts of the ancient structure are crumbling badly or have completely disappeared.

Working with the China Foundation for Cultural Heritage, Intel is using its drone and artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies as part of conservation efforts to help rebuild the decrepit Jiankou section of the wall some 30 miles north of Beijing.

Intel is already enjoying success with a drone platform for entertainment shows, but the tech company is also keen to see how else it can deploy its aerial technology, with the China partnership an illustration of its broadening interests.

Much of the Great Wall’s Jiankou section is immersed in thick vegetation. Accessibility is challenging and potentially dangerous due to its location along a mountain ridge with steep drop-offs, so camera-equipped drones offer a safe way of approaching the structure to gauge its precise design and current condition.

“As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Wall has been exposed to weather erosion for thousands of years,” the foundation’s Li Xiaojie said in a release. “Some parts are on steep inclines, which pose a great challenge for daily maintenance. Our partnership with Intel has opened new avenues for preservation.”

Intel is deploying its Falcon 8+ drone system, together with its A.I. technologies, to remotely inspect and map the Jiankou section. The octocopter features a patented V-shaped design for unobstructed data capture and was built with inspection and close mapping tasks in mind.

During the coming months, several of Intel’s drones will fly close to sections of the wall to capture high-definition 3-D images, providing the conservation team with valuable data. This will be used to build a visual representation of the Great Wall to help the team identify particular spots in need of repair, and to better identify the precise nature of the required repairs.

“Using drones, we are able to inspect multiple aspects of the structure, including areas that are quite inaccessible,” Intel’s Anil Nanduri said in a release. Anil added that the tech company is keen to help with the preservation work of more world heritage sites in the months and years ahead.

Drones are being tried and tested in a growing range of industries, from movies and logistics to agriculture and health. Heritage conservation is just the latest sector to explore how the still relatively new technology can help with its work.

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