Public Release: 

Cultural heritage at risk: From Venice the technologies of the future

The Italian Institute of Technology, in collaboration with the Ca' Foscari University, inaugurates a new centre of the IIT national network in Venice for the development of new technologies and materials

Università Ca' Foscari Venezia

The Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) inaugurated, in collaboration with the University Ca' Foscari of Venice, a new IIT centre dedicated to the development of new technologies and materials in the field of study and conservation of cultural heritage. The Centre for Cultural Heritage Technology (CCHT@Ca'Foscari) becomes part of the Institute's national network composed of ten centres in Italy and two out-stations located abroad (at MIT and Harvard University in the USA).

Natural phenomena and human action put cultural heritage at risk, and Italy is one of the main guardians of this heritage. Venice, symbol of the heritage of humanity to be protected, becomes - thanks to this new centre, part of the IIT network, and to the skills of Ca' Foscari - a laboratory for the study, the analysis, the conservation, also preventive, and the protection of the architectural, artistic and archaeological wealth preserved in Italy and in the world.

The fully operational centre will consist of more than 20 staff members including administrative personnel, PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, technical staff and senior researchers (Principal Investigators) and will begin its research activity in January 2019, as soon the procedures already under way will be completed, for staff recruitment and their insertion in the laboratories already set up at the Ca' Foscari University.

The scientific activity of the CCHT@Ca'Foscari will be planned according to the actual needs expressed by those who every day undertake to preserve and restore the national and international artistic heritage, and will develop on different levels exploiting the skills acquired by the IIT research teams who work in the fields of material sciences, computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine learning in a multidisciplinary perspective.

The researchers in material sciences involved in the activities of the centre will analyze the materials with which the objects are made in order to identify their characteristics and develop appropriate conservation strategies for the protection from natural or artificial agents. For example, coatings for protection against humidity, micro-organisms, wind erosion and marine aerosol will be created, designed to respect the chemical and physical characteristics of fabrics, masonry works, frescoes, canvases or sculptures, so that each treatment is specifically developed and based on the characteristics of the materials and the external factors to which they are subjected, be they meteorological or linked to human activities.

On the other hand, by means of computerized vision and machine learning techniques, it will be possible to digitize and render cultural assets of all kinds indestructible and enduring, inserted in their original context, to allow a more detailed study, reproduction or restoration following their damage, caused by natural causes - such as floods, earthquakes - or by human intervention - acts of vandalism or terrorism and pollution. To this end, new technologies will be tested in the centre - such as sensors and devices - that have never been used in the conservation of cultural heritage, and new increasingly economical and compact tools developed specifically, which can also be integrated into commonly used devices such as smartphones or tablets.

The work of the CCHT@Ca'Foscari will also be dedicated to the enhancement of the artistic, archaeological and architectural resources of our country and of others, through the use of new technologies developed in exhibition or museum projects, to put artificial intelligence, computer vision and advanced material sciences at the service of cultural dissemination.

According to Arianna Traviglia, Coordinator of the newly established CCHT@Ca'Foscari, "Multidisciplinarity will be a key element of the new centre of the IIT network. The people who will work here in Venice will combine their different backgrounds to achieve concrete results that meet the real needs of our cultural heritage; we will be able to achieve, for example, automated systems for the study and analysis of artefacts that use robotic devices able to manipulate artefacts to be digitized or treated". Traviglia concludes that it is "a meeting between state of the art technologies and unequalled cultural heritage".

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