Descending Into The Biggest Cave On Earth

About 300 miles south of Hanoi in the Truong Son Mountains near Vietnam’s border with Laos, Swedish photographer and journalist Martin Edstrom trekked deep into the jungle for 2 days, strapped himself into a climbing harness, stepped off a cliff and slowly lowered himself 260 feet down through a gaping hole in the earth, into a world of utter darkness.

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Edstrom was not just entering any hole in the ground. He was dropping into the world’s largest cave, so cavernous you could fit a Boeing 747 inside it.

Elstrom —working for National Geographic–was on an expedition co-sponsored by Intel and Dell, and the result is a dazzling first-ever look deep into Son Doong cave.

The Son Doong cave was created by a ground seepage through limestone and carved by a subterranean river over the last 2-plus million years. The cave’s entrance was stumbled upon in 1991 by a farmer who felt a rush of cool wind in the hot jungle. But not until 2009 was the cave first explored.

Edström’s underground mission was to create a 360-degree interactive photographic tour of Son Doong’s depths.

Working with a ruggedized Intel® Core™ i7-powered Dell Latitude 12 Extreme 2 in 1—they lowered their technology down into the cave—Edström and team were able to stitch together 360-degree images in remarkable time—not in the 8 hours which they were accustomed, but in just 15 minutes. Edström also brought down into the cave one of the thinnest workstations on the market, a Dell Precision M3800.

Lighting up Hang En

As Martin Edström and his team mounted the #SonDoong360 expedition to the world’s largest cave, they were nervous to see whether the lights they brought were strong enough. It’s impossible to simulate the world’s largest cave beforehand – so they just had to trust the lights were enough. With turning on the X-LED lights for the first time during the expedition, the team could finally rest easy. The lights were indeed powerful enough to create epic effects inside the huge limestone caves – and the team could start capturing the cave on camera. #SonDoong360

“Working with creating interactive reportages from remote locations is very demanding, and today I need a lot of computing power. Prototyping 360-degree images in the field has to be fast and reliable,” says Edström.

Power in turns out, is critical in this environment. Each of Edström’s 360-degree images is super high-resolution and large, consuming 500 megabytes. (A single shot from a typical point-and-shoot is 5 megabytes or less.) Images from the entire Son Doong expedition filled some 700 gigabytes of storage.

Enough words. Go! Experience the photos of the 230-foot-high “Hand of the Dog” stalagmite (perhaps the world’s biggest), Son Doong’s 600-foot-high passageways, and the river that runs through it.

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