‘New Technology in Digital Heritage: Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Ubiquity, and the History of the Future’
Andrew and Gido are both PhD researchers with the European Research Institute at the University of Birmingham. They are heavily involved in the latest technologies available to the heritage industry and were kind enough to come and give a wonderful presentation on their work and current projects undertaken by the Do.Collaboration centre and University of Birmingham (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/hclh/index.aspx).
Do.Collaboration (formerly the Heritage and Cultural Learning Hub) is focused on a wide range of projects including multi-touch and sensory devices, augmented reality, virtual reality, software and hardware that works to improve visitor engagement in the museum environment. The team has a range of backgrounds from scientists to programmers to museum professionals and artists. It is a collaborative and helpful team working together and approachable for questions and advice!
They currently have a range of projects and funding on going at the centre and are working in partnership with a range of museums, including BMAG, IGMT, the HIVE and The New Library of Birmingham (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/facilities/hclh/demonstrator/index.asp) . One of the most interesting aspects of the centre is the Prototyping Hall for testing digital outputs of projects on going. The large room is part of the centre’s space and includes large walled touch-screens, touch tables, projectors , mobile technology and a multi-user tracking system that will be able to track up to 40 users at once. There is also a one-way observation room. This Hall allows the researchers to test technology in a simulated environment of a museum, to see how users interact with the technology and each other. I found one of the most interesting aspects of the Hall is the large touch screen on the wall that allows multiple users to touch the screen at the same time; something that I find is sadly lacking in museum touch screens.
Some of the current projects include an EU-funded Regions of Knowledge: Smart Culture (http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/capacities/regions-knowledge_en.html), a £1.5m AHRC partnership with various universities and the Digital Heritage Demonstrator project. All of the projects at Do.Collaboration seek to explore the benefits of touch technology in a variety of ways and link touch screens with mobile technologies.
The presentation today focused around the PhD research of three students, Hafiz, Gido and Andrew. Hafiz could not be with us, but Gido was kind enough to detail his research. Hafiz is working on sensing people around a multi-touch table to see how users engage and approach interactive tables. He is using tracking sensors around the table that can track up to 6 users at once. Also part of the project is to use tracking to personalise the space of a user around the table, allowing them to be in control of their own area. The project also looks at how to attract users to the table and greet them, which is also a focus on personalisation. The idea is that instructions are given to the first users and then passed on to other users through visual observation of the first user. Also the ability to track people through their characteristics, such as height or gait, through the gallery to personalise the interactives to them as they move through the space.
Gido’s project is also dealing with touch screens, but also mobile devices in combination. He has been interested in the varied reasons why people visit a museum and determined that one of the aspects is for hands on experiences. He has questioned what behavioural patterns can be seen with visitors’ interactions around touch tables and mobiles – how can the touch screen increase the social interaction? He is interested in how technologies can be combined: touch, mobile, QR, display, etc. to all become context. Touch tables themselves are very social experiences and can be used by many people, but they are also unfamiliar and very public which means some people prefer not to use them because others can watch what they are doing. Mobile, on the other hands, is familiar and personal, but its output is limited and it creates less social experiences because it is more personal. Gido is interested in how to connect these two technologies together. He would like to be able to use these devices in combination in throughout the gallery space to allow visitors to find more information. Gido is currently creating prototypes to be used in the Prototype Hall to see how people move and interact and how they use the technology to make the experience more social and interactive.
Andrew, meanwhile, is researching on a subject that harkens back to my undergraduate days. He is focused on reconstructing cuneiform tablets. There are, literally, hundreds of thousands of fragments of cuneiform tablets scattered around the world, only some of which are catalogued in the CDLI database (over 200,000 there alone). It is like a giant jigsaw puzzle trying to fit the fragments together and many are badly damaged. Andrew embarked on a project to digitally map 8000 complete pieces to determine the average size of most tablets and found that this could be measured. Most are a 1:1 ratio, and many others are the same ratio that can be found on a Smartphone! Clearly, the Mesopotamians weren’t that different from us! Andrew used photogrammetry to measure the tablets correctly. Now they are able to predict the size of a complete tablet from only a fragment. This will increase the efficiency of the matching process for scholars matches amongst fragments around the world easier. Fragments can now to scanned in 3D and matched up electronically in an online database. Users can manipulate the online images and other users can see how the image has been moved and rotated. As part of the project, Andrew has also been able to print representations of the cuneiform tablets in 3D, which I personally find fascinating!
We have such wonderful technologies available to us today that do amazing things. It is even more wonderful to know that such cutting edge technology is being used in the heritage sector to create visitor interest, solve historical problems and make museums more interactive and interesting! We live in a fascinating time in the cultural sector where technology is increasing in leaps and bounds, museums are becoming much more inclusive and yet, at the same time, the cultural industry is suffering economically. Still, that such projects as Hafiz, Gido and Andrew’s exist is a testament to the people who work in this industry.