eHERITAGE - Expanding the Research and Innovation Capacity in Cultural Heritage Virtual Reality Applications
eHERITAGE (‘Expanding the Research and Innovation Capacity in Cultural Heritage Virtual Reality Applications’) is a H2020 Coordination and Support project. The aim of eHERITAGE is for the coordinating institution (University Transilvania of Brasov - UTBv) to achieve excellence in the field of virtual heritage, by twinning with 2 other research centers, experts in this field: Jožef Stefan Institute (JSI) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (SSSA) from Pisa, Italy. Being a support action, eHERITAGE has one main objective: to increase the capacity, quality and extent of the research staff from the VR laboratory of UTBv. The concept is to obtain at the end of the project a center of excellence in preserving cultural heritage with the help of VR technologies, located in the Eastern Europe. We used 3 operational directions to attain this objective: increasing the competitive research, training researchers and continuously extending the R&I. Short staff exchanges, workshops, training visits, educative seminars and summer schools are just a few of the “tools” used to enhance the knowledge transfer between UTBv and its partners or stakeholders. The project was funded by the EU with the sum of 975,625 EUR, over a period of 3 years, starting with the 1st of November, 2015 and ending on the October 31, 2018. The coordinating institution also received a national grant of 42,000 EUR to help with complementary expenses. This initiative had the opportunity to reach maturity in the European Year of Cultural Heritage. It was the perfect occasion for our team to capitalize on the knowledge obtained in the first 2 years of the project. We tried from the beginning to design activities which would fit in the regional innovation strategy for economic growth and prosperity for our home city (Brasov, Romania). However, given the recent turn of events, eHERITAGE managed to also influence social, economic and cultural environments at national and international levels, by participating in numerous events and by establishing new strategic partnerships with other research institutes or academic entities. Among the institutions which interacted with eHERITAGE we can list the History Museum of Brașov, the Evangelical Church of Prejmer (UNESCO monument), National College “Andrei Șaguna”, County Library “George Barițiu”, the University “Ovidius” of Constanța, the Museum of History and Archeology of Constanța, the Museum of Archeology from Cecina, the Museum Capitolini of Rome, the National Gallery of Slovenia and the University of Padova. Several VR systems created by us were showcased during various events such as: the EU Open Day (2018) in Brussels, Belgium; European Researchers’ Night (2017 and 2018) in Brașov, Romania; Creative Summer School (2016-2018) in Constanța, Romania; LuBeC - Lucca Beni Culturali (2017) in Lucca, Italy; Internet Festival (2017) in Pisa, Italy; TEDx Constanța (2017) in Constanța, Romania; VRTCH'18 (2018) in Brașov, Romania; ICIF (2018) in Shenzen, China; AFCO (2018) in Brașov, Romania. During these trade shows and expositions, thousands of people had the chance to test equipment running virtual heritage scenarios. The most appreciated products are a bow simulator, a holographic stand and a digital VR book. eHERITAGE has pronounced education, training and awareness-raising valences, in both tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Our museum-ready stands aimed at teaching the non-expert public multiple historical facts, using multi-sensorial inputs. One example is the holographic stand, which showcases several fortified churches from “Țara Bârsei”, a small region of Transylvania. Thousands of pictures were processed through photogrammetry to obtain optimized models of these edifices. Some of these models are also available in the Repository section from eHERITAGE.org. Another example is related to the Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana, a criminal law treaty drafted in Austria during the reign of Maria Theresa. The original manuscript was laying in the deposit of the History Museum of Brașov. We have digitized the book and enhanced it with 3D elements. Readers can browse the content, use information tips to read detailed description, see and interact with virtual objects. Our team has a wide experience with haptic systems. We can develop innovative tools which combine multi-sensory input, allowing users to experience a high-quality kinaesthetic feedback. One of the systems developed during eHERITAGE is the haptic bow. This highly interactive equipment allows users not only to experience an immersive archery scenario, but also to customize the force characteristic of the bow they want to shoot with, making a difference between i.e. English longbows and short recurved Turkish horse bows. eHERITAGE is member of several networks of excellence, associations and organizations such as Europa Nostra, European Association for Digital Humanities (EADH), Future for Religious Heritage (FRH) and the European Network on Cultural Management and Policy (ENCATC). The project was featured in regional, national and international media outlets. Moreover, it was presented as a successful story on the portal of the European Union. The project team started with the research of technologies that can be used in cultural heritage. We have focused on augmented and virtual reality platforms, haptic interfaces, intelligent systems and digitization methods. The eHERITAGE team has published in three years almost 40 research papers (http://www.eheritage.org/publications/), most of them related to case studies of AR and VR in cultural heritage. Several of our articles are approaching the use of artificial intelligence in creating virtual assistants for museum tours or other applications in the cultural heritage domain. An exciting paper was related to the transfer of intangible cultural heritage (ICH), specifically the craft of printmaking. The use of virtual reality in learning a craft was found to physically and emotionally involve participants due to the immersive aspect. A review on virtual humans in cultural heritage ICT applications was published in the Journal of Cultural Heritage. In the same journal, we also published a study about restoring colours in films. We have developed 3D interactive reconstructions of artifacts, monuments and entire sites. Until a few years ago, most of these reconstructions were basically static and often missing an important factor: human presence. Thanks to the advancements in the technology, we have used Virtual Humans (VHs) in a variety of cultural-related VR applications, thus enriching the interaction experience. From simple 2D characters to complex 3D avatars, technology continues to evolve and so is the adoption of virtual assistants in digital heritage. We also focused on augmented reality applications for smartphones that allow users to explore monuments, to navigate or to get a glimpse of the past. 2018 marked a special event for Romania: we celebrate 100 years since the unification of all Romanian provinces in one democratic state. What was once an impossible dream turned out to be a reality a century ago. Our project assumed the task of participation in several events related this commemoration. 2018 was also the European Year of Cultural Heritage. We have undertaken multiple activities under the aegis of this celebration, thus promoting our European values. By creating innovative VR applications for cultural heritage sites, eHERITAGE contributes to the spread of knowledge in the fields of history, education, technology and arts. The team of researchers based in Romania and specialized in new technologies has increased the awareness in the virtual heritage field in the Eastern Europe and will continue its activity through local and international projects.