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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. 

Workshop agenda

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

Textile research agendas

End-users

Research agendas and benefits of virtual technologies

Plenary

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.

Outcomes

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

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

Agenda

  1. tour of National Museum of Scotland lead by Dr Alison Sheridan
  2. new speakers, reports on progress and demonstrator models
  3. 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.

Key outcomes

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.