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What’s New in Archaeology - communication techniques and modern technology

Sebastian Buks (SE),
Jan Hendrik de Bruin (NL)

The short stories on communication techniques and modern technology in connection to Archaeology. Made for Zeitgeist & OpenArch, two EU Cooperation Projects in EXARC. The authors were speakers at the conference "Bringing archaeology to life - New ways to reach the public" which took place in Borger (NL), in October 2011.

Virtual Heritage: how we can combine the past and modern technology

by Sebastian Buks

Who am I? I am a former student of University of Lund. The university has around 46000 students and is divided in eight faculties. I was a student at the faculty of engineering. I started my business in 2010. Recently I joined forces with another company called New Sweden. Combined we are a team of 25 enthusiastic people. We are located in the Northern part of Sweden, Stockholm and we will start in Malmo near Lund. We do software and hardware implementations. We focus on mobile development and internet solutions; we have some game development and consultancy work. I am presenting Mattias Wallergard, who was also my supervisor during my master thesis. He couldn’t be here and so I had the privilege to be here. Mattias is part in a multidisciplinary research where they investigate how we can use digital technologies in the cultural heritage domain. And particularly they are interested in how we can do time travels using this to portray this. This group is also part of a network of excellence We Must (European Union initiative). It is an initiative to digitalise and preserve the cultural heritage in mainly Europe. I am also presenting myself and the research I have done with New Sweden in the same field.

I start with giving some basic statistics and background. I continue with overview of the work we have done with augmented reality in this context. I will have a focus on mobile and communication aspects. At the end I will do a demonstration.

First some data from 2010 are presented. There are 5.3 billion mobile subscribers (that's 77 percent of the world population). Growth is led by China and India. Total shipments of smart phones in 2010 were 302.6 million units up 74.4 percent from 2009. This makes smart phones 21.8 percent of all handsets shipped (about 50% in western countries). By 2015, 631 million smart phones will be sold. The number of people accessing the mobile Internet is growing fast and is expected to overtake the PC as the most popular way to get on the Web within five years. Accessing maps and directions is the no. 1 mobile activity, followed by social networking, accessing local information and reading news. Playing games comes in at no. 5 just behind music.

Virtual heritage is a term used to describe projects dealing with information and communication technologies and cultural heritage. This is modern technology, how we can communicate cultural heritage with it. Game-based learning: type of games that deals with applications that have defined learning outcomes. Often combined with storylines often connected or should be connected with reality. So: Virtual heritage and Game-based learning combined are ways in which technology, interactivity, or cultural conventions of computer gaming can help afford the cultural understanding of the self, of the past, or of others with mindsets quite different to our own.

What is Augmented Reality? Digital data combined Reality in the same view is Augmented Reality (AR). Layar is developed in the Netherlands, so probably this is known here. Example: In this picture you see a temple from an archaeological excavation site which consists a 3d model and imposts on in the camera view so it melds together and give you the impression of actually being when you look through the camera of your smart phone.
Today Augmented Reality is used in a lot of different ways. Probably you´ve seen it (not even noticing) in television, sports, military use, movies and navigation.
There are two main types of augmented reality, namely marker based and position based. Marked based augmented reality has an image as the reference point. Position based augmented reality has GPS-coordinates or a use location as reference point, examples are Layar and Junaio. There are pros en cons for both types. Marker based are very accurate, results in a high reality feeling, but need a marker and are depending on light condition, hard to recognize the marker. Position based augmented reality is not as accurate. This results in a poor reality feeling, but it doesn’t need a marker, just a GPS signal or location data. It is not possible inside (without extra equipment), only outdoors. We have done a numbers of projects since 2003 using different technologies. Here are a few examples, using immersive virtual reality systems to more simple desktop systems. I will present three case studies we have done together with the University of Lund.

Case study (1/3) is a project where Augmented Reality is inside, namely in Lund University Historical Museum in the exhibition The Barbaricum exhibition: findings from the Iron Age city of Uppåkra. The questions we asked ourselves were: 1. Is het possible to combine a storytelling approach with Augmented Reality? 2. Which kinds of usability issues could arise? The museum uses a lot of storytelling to communicate research results. In the brochure a lady is presented who welcomes the public and offers a cup of mead. This character is used as prototype. It is market based. The usability evaluation were done by questionnaires and observing. The results were: a ”Wow factor” due the unique experience, initial difficulties understanding and request for more data/content. See PDF

Case study (2/3) is Augmented Reality at the Uppåkra excavation site. No reconstruction will be built...pretty uninteresting for every non-archaeologist. Basically just the field is visible. What possibilities are there with smart phone AR in regards to: 3D visualization or storytelling? This is a work in progress. The temple is reconstructed with the use of Layar at the excavation site. One of the good things of location based AR, is that you can actually walk aside buildings, between 3d-models and between spaces. This is not possible by marker based AR, because you have to point at the marker. We are currently investigating how we can add more content to this, using say sound and video. See PDF

Case study (3/3) is Augmented Reality for historical city walks in Malmö. This is a collaboration with the company Virtual Historical Models. In 2003 they built a 3D model of Malmö year 1692 in high detail (based on thousands of documents from a 1692 military stocktaking). There are about 1000 buildings. Is it possible to create a mobile experience based on the 3D material from Malmö 1692? How to design the interaction between the user and the content? How to create a unified experience combining the mobile application with museum activities? These results are AR like experience. It is not strictly augmented reality, but somewhere in the middle. We can connect real world points of interest (POI) with 3D models to them. We used the game development tool Unity and high-quality sensor based tracking (e.g. iPad 2). For example with the POI´s we could lead the user on a path ending up to the museum (making Malmö museum a POI). There are a few conclusions. Augmented Reality, storytelling and Game Based Learning is a promising combination. Crucial to design user interfaces with high usability due to the novelty of the AR medium. Connecting points of interest in combination with 3D models opens up new possibilities. Considering smart phone availability and computation power in the coming years we should see a lot more of this, starting with casual games to commercial games and moving on to???. See PDF


Communication Techniques of the Future

by Jan Hendrik de Bruin

The surface technology of Microsoft is about 4-5 years old. Soon the next advancement in this technology will be available; we already expected it to be on the market in September. However, Microsoft delayed the introduction of the table to November this year. The concept of the technology is still the same so I think it is still very good to attend the presentation and see what we could use it for. So, as promised, I will skip the commercial part.

Speak is a company of 30 people that develops websites, mobile applications, not-really-games and surface applications. When Microsoft first introduced the surface technology, there existed none of the now so common multi touch screens as can be found on our iPads and iPhones. Microsoft was one of the first that introduced a technique with which you can use your hand or fingers on a table to interact with the application or images on the screen. Even then this was recognized as a great development. And that’s not all: one of the biggest advantages of the surface table is its multi-user support. In the presentation of Sebastian Buks it was shown that the iPad or iPhone is really a personal device which of course is perfect for one-on-one communication. However, at times it is better to communicate and share experiences using a more accessible object. We think the surface table is very well-suited to just that purpose. I will expand on that in a few slides. The multi-touch was something new 4/5 years ago but now we are all used to it. This is a great advantage because people entering a room with a surface table are instantly familiar with it. Four years ago people were a little reserved but nowadays you see everyone the using their hands to interface with the software on the table. And one of the greatest advantages remains that several people can interact with the table at once. Every touch interaction grants entry to any application and allows said application to be used. It is possible to work on four or five scripts or activities based on the hands on the table. This is what makes the table so well suited to group interaction. It is really nice when you sit around the table with four or five people and are all working on something. I will show a demonstration video later.

Also very special is the object recognition. This is something which I expect to prove very useful for this museum in Borger. It is possible to use this feature with stones or other ancient objects and then provide the audience with information. This is a little different from ‘regular’ virtual reality, since a real object is brought to the device, put on the table recognized and then more information about this object can be shown, a movie started, etc. It will be shown in a video clip afterwards. One of improvements of the new platform is that it will have a high resolution (Full HD) screen. This introduces a real wow-factor to the images and sounds.

One of things we are thinking about for this museum is plotting an ancient route from point A to point B. We want to allow hikers to use a mobile device as demonstrated in presentation of Sebastian Buks to experience the route. It would be nice if they could bring some stuff along when returning to the museum and use these objects, collected along the route, to interact with the surface table. This will add a new dimension to this conceptual technology. It is not yet finished, but we are already in a developing stage. We are waiting on the surface 2 table to arrive in Europe so we can develop the proper software. You can imagine a group of people collecting some items and then returning to the museum, putting the items on the table and then something happens which they hadn’t seen before. The techniques we have used in the application we already developed will also be used in the new applications we will develop for the museum. The combination of technique and archaeology will be the wow-factor. The combination has a cultural value and it will be the next step to attract a new audience. Visitors nowadays are not really that focussed anymore, they run around, play a game and want to do everything together. It should be possible to combine all these things without the constant use of smartphones. Just imagine everybody walking around with a smart phone in front of their faces; the interaction with the people around them should then be severely questioned. You have to facilitate that as well if you use a technology as surface, which allows visitors to combine personal experience with a group experience while also the gaming factor can be accounted for in this concept. In March-April 2012 the application and surface tables will be here in the museum and it will be very nice to visit again and see them operational.