News and Events
Two very successful workshops were held in 2009. The first at Exeter University in May and the second, held jointly at Edinburgh University and The National Museum of Scotland, in September. Summaries appear below:
Workshop 1: the state of the art and promising directions.
28-29th May 2009 Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter
The workshop brought together twenty-six people from six countries and nineteen institutions to consider the state of the art and put forward their points of view and identify key issues. They worked in many different disciplines; archaeology, art and design, computing science, conservation, geography, informatics, multimedia, physics, robotics, and sonic arts. Three haptic devices were on show and several participants brought samples of replica textiles. All participants were able to give very short overview papers to share their ideas and agendas across disciplines. The first day facilitated knowledge exchange and the second day developed agendas, identified promising synergies and planned work on replica textiles and ‘proof of concept’ demonstrator models.
- Overview papers to share ideas between disciplines
- Outline of research needed to facilitate the cluster theme
- Plan work on replica textiles and ‘proof-of-concept’ demonstrator
- Identify promising synergies; assign individuals to agreed tasks
- Set outline agenda for second workshop
There were many different kinds of researchers and end-users present. After the exchange of ideas on day 1 it was evident that even within broad groupings such as ‘end-users’ or ‘computer scientists’ there were diverse opinions and interests. The participants did not have a unified experience or agenda. This was not surprising but made the debates lively and wide-ranging. There was also a sense that several agendas could be worked on and that these might interact in interesting ways with synergies emerging from very different fields. The following is a summary of the issues raised by discussions within broad themes.
Human-computer interfaces and haptic devices
- The timing of virtual touch developments is crucial as solutions could be ‘non-ideal’ in their current state but lead to better developments at the next stage – the technology is on a trajectory where rapid developments might take place.
- Virtual touch need not exactly mimic real touch to be effective. Computer visualisation is not an exact replica of what is seen by the eye but the visual effects provided by the computer still allow an interaction and engagement which the body learns to adapt to and translate. In the same way a haptic rendition need not exactly mimic human touch in order to engage the human sense of touch. Just as the visual effects of computer screen human characters have gradually become more realistic and been rendered with more sophistication, any haptics developments might be expected to follow the same trajectory with rapid progress once the initial idea is accepted. Once expectations are raised the field gathers momentum.
- The fingertip array is the current method for delivering the sensation of touch but touch is a multifaceted concept. Other aspects of haptic interactions could include thermal and acoustic effects.
Textile research agendas
- Narratives are informed by more than just touch. What about the smell and thermal qualities?
- An object does not exist in isolation: it forms part of a group or exists in a context. This is true in both the society which made and used the object and also its museum context. The mingling of objects is thus important. In real life taskscapes and biographies are important aspects of objects. Can the design of a haptic device offer some other ways of understanding the material and the processes of manufacture and change? Can haptic devices be used to address its transformation in the ground and its current fragility?
- Explaining and understanding textiles would be advanced by textile-making as a taster experience (like making rope at Rochester museum, simple memorable experience). Can haptic experiences get away from the computer desktop? For example ‘ring the bow bells’ TM?
- Is it possible to use wii style body interactions to look at embodied practices of crafts to make and use items?
- Visualisation of textiles via computer-generated images can offer important information for grouping archaeological textiles and visualising the weave, colour and drape.
- Craft practitioners are helping archaeologists include textural details into descriptions and to understand weave structures
- The technology for virtual touch needs not to overwhelm its physical setting e.g. a museum gallery and must be able to cope with the visitor numbers (i.e. size of machine, noise emission, time for people to interact with device as individuals or as groups).
- The technology should offer a new dimension to the communication of objects via touch with an appropriate meaningful narrative so that any device is not just ‘entertainment’.
- There is no single user group but broad ranges of users such as Education (schools), home computer users, visitors within Museums (virtual reality vs replicas) and special needs groups.
- Products and solutions could be expected to be diverse according to the kind of user and their setting. Rapid-prototyping could be explored for its practical issues and scope. If textures are accurate can technology be read from them? Could scales be changed to offer research opportunities? They could offer a kind of sensory experience or a memory to take away. Currently 3D scanning processes cannot be expected to replicate the finest details of textiles easily but this is developing rapidly.
- Evaluation of any device will be an important aspect of the design loop.
- Some people want to see new technology as part of displays or to widen access, but there is also a trend to move from static displays to IT interaction with information exchange, eg downloadable information. Devices will need to be simple to operate if they are intended to both collect and present information.
- Haptic installations may deflect interest away from the ancient items on show. Currently displays focus on ‘objects’; haptic devices could subtly shift this focus to the physicality of objects. Installations could provide information on what things do and how they are made. This could increase the object biography aspects of an artefact and show more of the narratives behind an object.
- Financial mechanisms for public display varied and virtual technologies need to be assessed against the robustness of device and costs to set up and, as importantly, costs and expertise to maintain them.
Research agendas and benefits of virtual technologies
- Virtual technologies could attract visitors to experience or see the real objects.
- Research agendas could be advanced by the logging of surface characteristics or physical qualities
- Haptic solutions could aid the standardisation of descriptions in archives
- Virtual technology could provide increased access to rare items or costly replicas; they could be used to explain unusual materials and their performance characteristic; the changing appearance and feel of cloth as time goes by.
- Haptics is in a developmental phase; it would be important to consider issues of the standardisation and compatibility of the software and devices and ownership of rights.
- It was noted that the creative industries (old and new) and the digital economy are key current concerns. Haptics are already in use in a range of fields; deep sea divers; the military, medicine and medical training, the film industry, Smart textile guidance systems, cell phone guidance and the role of Google Earth in heritage information provision; technology in lifelong learning, perceptions of ‘things’
- As emotional responses to objects are an important aspect of museums and sensory perception the emotions arising from touch could differ between the real artefact and a replica or haptic interface. (sensory perception and synaesthesia would be important).
- Rapid–prototyping: how can it feel real if the material is different? Could it solve some of the alternative ‘problems’ of explaining technologies or recording samples? Could prototypes offer a take home souvenir to the public?
The final plenary discussion, identified promising synergies and planned work on replica textiles and ‘proof of concept’ demonstrator models. The chance to see both replica textiles and working haptic devices at the workshop produced direct inspirations. The computer experts could see and feel the kinds of issues faced in textile replication and the different devices on show crystallised the technical challenges for the museum curators. The haptic devices ranged from a fingertip pin array and computer display produced as a research demonstrator model, to commercially available haptic devices such as a Falcon. The haptics worked differently and there was some discussion of how to get the best from the different systems and whether it was possible to combine elements of several systems. There was also discussion of the means by which the original artefact could be related to the haptic interface. The museum professionals present were able to explain the security and environmental issues of the display of fragile artefacts. Several ideas were discussed but one proved especially fruitful: by clever lighting arrangements it was possible to fool the eye into seeing both an object in a case and a computer screen. The idea of working with ‘ghost’ images took root and was a feature of subsequent work and of several of the planned ‘demonstrator models’ that would be worked up for the second workshop.
The workshop agreed that these issues could be further distilled in the next few months but that for the second workshop participants would work towards
- further presentations on and discussion of 3D scanning and rapid prototyping
- work on some unusual materials to inform debates about physical characteristics
- make progress on several ‘demonstrator models’ featuring the ‘ghost’ image idea but presented via different means including a computer interface with haptic mouse and by means of a 3D replica generated from a laser scan.
It was agreed that the second workshop in September would take place in Edinburgh. Thanks to participant Dr Mark Wright, the workshop would be hosted at the Department of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, but this venue also allowed curator and participant Dr Alison Sheridan to offer a tour of the National Museum of Scotland to show participants the public and behind the scenes issues faced by a major museum.
September 2009 Workshop 2. Further research and proof of concept models
Edinburgh University and The National Museum of Scotland
- tour of National Museum of Scotland lead by Dr Alison Sheridan
- new speakers, reports on progress and demonstrator models
- future grant applications: breakout groups for developing various proposals
On the first day participants were offered a tour of the National Museum of Scotland by curator, Dr Alison Sheridan. This focused attention on the kind of artefacts on display and the spaces around them. Participants were able to see the different opportunities presented by iconic objects in very popular routes, versus rare but less visually spectacular artefacts in quieter galleries. There was discussion of the difference between the permanent exhibitions and themed special exhibitions and the work that went on behind the scenes in a museum. Educational, outreach and special needs activities were also discussed.
The speakers addressed the role of objects in wellbeing and sensory worlds, and outlined recent developments in motion capture, Dr Tom Lomax and Dr Annmarie Lapensee presented 3D scanning and modelling in art and archaeology and the range of rapid replication techniques. Dr AnnMarie Shillito outlined different ways in which openwork textiles might be modelled by a combination of two media, one of which could be dissolved to create gaps. All of the methods of replication would involve some compromise in the tactile qualities of the facsimile but these methods were a rapidly growing field and new developments could produce replicas in a greater variety of materials. For example it is now possible to make ardboard replicas which might offer a better tactile similarity to textiles though the copies may be less robust. Any digital solution to touch qualities makes compromises. It is currently easier to make a virtual rigid digital object than a virtual deformable object. Thus the question for all the digital solutions came down to sensory cues versus sensory precision. The demonstrator models would allow human perceptions to be gauged.
There were five demonstrator models featuring a range of ideas: a Lewis chess piece replica and the ‘ghost’ image idea (Mark Wright); a haptic pen and a range of different textures and objects which could be felt virtually using the pen (Mark Wright and Janis Jefferies; a 3D visual display linked to a force feedback Falcon (Ann Marie Shillito), a multimodal haptic pin array mouse, computer image and ghost image for location over the surface of a nettle textile (Hurcombe and Summers), and a visual interface and pin array (Garcia Hernandez). There were again several different sets of sample textiles on display exploring textures and unusual materials (Harris, Hurcombe, Jefferies) and examples of computer-generated jewellery and models in polymer resins and metal (Shillito).
The discussion also raised the use of virtual technology in comparison to traditional physical replicas, termed (re)constructions, to signify that it is impossible to reconstruct artefact and context completely. Such replica objects often require rare resources and unusual craft expertise, making them expensive and difficult to produce. Furthermore, they are themselves vulnerable artifacts: where the (re)constructions are freely accessible in museums, they can wear out within a year. It was clear that comparative data between virtual and physical (re)constructions was needed to explore effectiveness, costs and longevity.
Funding sources were presented in outline and as copied sets of material to focus discussion. As a general point the participants’ discussion at the second workshop identified that there were two routes to further funding. If haptic devices were to be made specifically for archaeological artefacts the funding would need to be interdisplinary and very large scale: much of the programming and development work is at postdoctoral level in the sciences. In this context, EU funding and science funding was discussed. An alternative approach could be to adapt devices that were currently in development and becoming cheaper in price. The increasing role of mobile phones and personal portable computing equipment was also discussed as a way of circumventing the provision of expensive equipment.
There were different kinds of museum contexts and visitor needs: no one idea would work for all of them. Curators and conservators were also concerned about the flow of visitors and whether an installation could cope with crowds at busy periods, and the practicalities of setting up and, as importantly, maintaining an installation. IT solutions needed to take account of museum budgets and the kind of IT expertise available. Furthermore, curators were concerned that the technical gadget would become the focus of attention and overwhelm the archaeology. It was essential to keep the archaeological artefacts as the main focus.
Perceptions of the different systems and textiles in conjunction with the earlier museum visit focused discussion further on the need to match inputs and outputs to get solutions that were right for a particular end-user context. Participants identified that there was no one ‘right’ way, and that haptic interfaces were likely to remain plural possibilities for the near future. However, the models showed that in some cases relatively minor adaptations could be made to achieve a testable system and that the next stage would be to take these to try out stage and the visit to the museum inspired some participants to identify working solutions linked to specific objects and galleries.