April 12, 2007 Dassault Systèmes’ in conjunction with researcher Jean-Pierre Houdin, have used cutting edge 3D technology to solve a 4500 year old riddle – how the Great Pyramid of Giza was constructed within 20 years and without wheels, pulleys or iron tools. The pyramid is the oldest and last remaining wonder of the ancient world, and is as much famous for the alternative, often supernatural explanations offered for its construction as it is for its historical significance. Houdin used CATIA 3D software to digitally create his hypothesis, which theorized an “inside out” construction process. The highly advanced software was able to take into account the strength and resistance of the materials used, the ability of workers using primitive tools to move the blocks into place, the effect of aging, and even the effect of the weight of the pyramid on the pyramid itself. You can see the work in three dimensions here.

The project is the latest in Dassault Systèmes’ “Passion for innovation” initiative, which supports the use of its advanced 3D modeling technology for non-profit scientific purposes. Dassault believes that 3D modeling will be the premier technology of the 21st century, due to its ability to accurately predict the performance of materials, buildings, automobiles and planes in a realistic environment, bypassing the need for unnecessary physical prototypes. This means that complicated and sophisticated machinery and technology can be designed and developed in record time.

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Dassault also believes that its technology has practical applications for consumers, proposing that people could create physically accurate avatars of themselves in order to see how clothes looked on them without the hassle of changing, or even leaving home.

Solving the puzzle of the pyramids involved building the largest real-time 3D virtual reality auditorium in the world, a first for Dassault Systèmes and the Géode. Seven computers running Dassault Systèmes’ 3D Virtools solutions are linked in a network to recreate the Kheops construction site in 3D, exactly as it was 4,500 years ago. The system allows the presenter to move about the virtual site freely in response to the audience’s questions. This is a first, linking the real and virtual worlds via an immersive, interactive 3D experience.

Using 3D tech

1 - Geometrical modeling: Geometrical modeling consists in recreating the pyramid precisely in 3 dimensions, with all its available measurements and with the complete layout of its interior corridors and funeral chambers. The geometrical model can then be manipulated at will: it can be turned in any direction and examined from any angle, cross-sections can be defined, the layout of the internal corridors and the funeral chambers can be visualised transparently etc. Such manipulations of the 3D model, which are utterly impossible on the real pyramid, allow a vast range of observations to be carried out very rapidly. The 3D model in particular enabled Jean-Pierre Houdin to acquire a deeper understanding of the monument and to establish relations between certain measurements (the distance between any two points on the model can be obtained instantaneously). The ability to compare certain gradients with the length of the different internal structures of the pyramid provided the architect with both insights and evidence for the development of his theory.

2 - Physical modeling: As the geometrical model cannot be used to simulate events, physical modelling is used to enrich the geometry with the physical characteristics of the materials used in the pyramid. Using Dassault Systèmes’ software integrating physical laws, it was possible to simulate the behaviour of the virtual pyramid as if it were the real thing, for example the resistance of the materials or the effect of the weight of the pyramid on itself etc. It’s easy to identify the location of limestone or granite elements, but also to get their physical parameters (density, elasticity etc.). This data is then integrated to the geometrical model which thus increasingly resembles the real thing.

3 - Functional modeling: The Jean-Pierre Houdin’s theory integrates a certain number of mechanical systems such as sleds or carriages running on wooden roller beds. The characteristics and disparities of such systems are well known in mechanics (e.g. the friction generated by a skid sliding on a rail is not the same as that of a load being moved on a roller). These characteristics are integrated into the 3D model in order to obtain a total model with the same dimensions, and the same physical and functional parameters, as the real pyramid.