Technology comes to science´s aid, seeking crucial answers that may provide ways to preserve the invaluable cultural heritage of Spain
‘Smart’, as an adjective, can have several meanings, even more so when applied to a theme as broad as Smart Cities. However, if we apply this term to more specific applications, it is possible to narrow down the essence of that intelligence and to establish a connection with each project´s focus. In the case of what we know as Smart Heritage, the adjective ‘Smart’ is the result of the arrangement of many of the elements that determine technological intelligence: from M2M communications to Cloud computing, as well as data analytics applied to answering questions that the scientific method has not successfully answered yet.
In countries like Spain, as well as many others in which today´s cities have been built over the stones of cities created centuries or millennia ago, buildings and structures that are a part of our history coexist with other buildings that are slowly becoming a part of our future. This cultural heritage has an incalculable value, which was usually only quantified when some kind of damage or erosion was produced. Corrective restoration is not the best strategy for the preservation of heritage, as the only option is to act only after damage has taken its toll on a building, a painting or any other structure. Prevention, on the other hand, is not feasible with traditional methods such as periodic checks. According to the data gathered by Spain´s Ministry of Culture, Spain alone has 104.583 assets with a cultural value, with 44 of them listed as World Heritage, with no less than 97 cathedrals and basilicas. Such an amount of structures cannot be handled with traditional methods.
M2M: a viable solution
A solid technologic alternative to a manual inspection of cultural assets is the installation and use of sensors, although it is not an entirely new initiative. Before the Smart Heritage initiative was devised, the Santa María La Real Foundation for Historic Heritage (www.santamarialareal.org) had already started using the Monitoring Heritage System based on the installation of sensors to measure environmental and structural parameters, such as the levels of humidity, temperatures or exposure to light, as well as the inclination off surfaces, the increase in the size of breaches, the concentration of chemicals present in the air or the environment, etc. This system of wireless connected sensors can collect relevant data to be used in analytic techniques that can help the experts in their quest for unanswered questions regarding the degrading of cultural heritage assets due to environmental or structural factors. All of this data is available in the website www.mhsproject.com for registered users, and the data is provided through Cloud computing.
This system is marketed by Telefónica, and it is already being deployed in several areas, in Spain as well as in Portugal and France and in famous spots such as the Cathedral of Palencia, the Basque Museum, and the Bayona History Museum in France or the Church of Saint Peter in Roriz, Portugal. This project is a part of the larger picture of the SHbuildings project (www.shbuildings.eu), funded by the European Union through the Territorial Cooperation Programme in Southwest Europe, Interreg IV B SUDOE (www.interreg-sudoe.eu) which extends to Spain, France and Portugal.
In addition to the monitored cultural assets that we have previously pointed out, more sensors are being installed in other key spots of the Spanish heritage map, such as the Wall of Ávila, the Convent of Saint Claire in Tordesillas (included in Spain´s National Heritage list) or the Church of Saint Peter of the Ship, in El Campillo (Zamora). It was exactly at the Wall of Avila where Telefónica officially introduced its Smart Heritage solution on the 21st of June, a solution designed for the management of Historic Cultural Heritage through Smart monitoring. The event was attended, among others, by Diana Caminero (M2M Manager at Telefónica Digital Spain), Juan Carlos Prieto Vielba (General Manager of the Santa María La Real Foundation for Historic Heritage), José Luis Rivas (Mayor of Avila) and Rosa Ruiz (Avila´s City Archaeologist and head of the Heritage Office).
This solution is already functioning in Avila, and it features 60 wirelessly connected sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, illumination, CO2 levels, salt concentration or solar radiation. All this data is then transferred to Telefónica´s IoT where it is processed using data analytics tools and Big Data with incorporated algorithms designed specifically for this heritage solution. In addition to the Wall of Avila, there are other enclaves where the solution is being introduced, such as the Convent of Saint Claire in Tordesillas, a property of the National Heritage, or the Church of Saint Peter in El Campillo. In this same manner, there are currently over fifty areas or cultural assets connected and monitored online.
The Smart Heritage solution is the result of a joint effort inspired by the need to go beyond corrective restoration and into preventive conservation. We have given voice to the experts, and taken accurate decisions based on their optimal capacity towards heritage preservation as well as the capacity to save costs in a context where the budgets usually allocated to these matters are considered a secondary issue in comparison to other expenses in the midst of a crisis. Although M2M is not a new technology, the current development of cloud-based applications and the improvement of ICT enable us now to take smarter decisions of this kind in the field of heritage.
Key aspects of the Smart Heritage solution
- Devices use wireless, non-intrusive communication.
- Specifically designed to be installed in environments related to heritage, being respectful to them.
- Can be deployed in areas that may be hard to access due to their placement, isolation or special security measures.
- Able to measure standard changing variables such as temperature, humidity, exposure to light, etc; and also specialized variables such as xylophagus insects, several contaminants that affect heritage and others related to the structure´s own stability.
- Incorporates its own web and local interface, flexible according to the project´s needs. The solution has personalized graphics and reports, specifically designed to use with the Heritage solution.
- Utilizes specialized Big Data algorithms, tailored for heritage prevention.
- The solution can be used in all sorts of buildings, both religious (convents, monasteries…) and civil (walls, towers, museums). It can also be used for the protection of the cultural heritage such as art galleries, archives, etc.