Expanded Cultural Heritage Representation: Digital Applications for Mixed-Reality Experiences

Expanded Cultural Heritage Representation: Digital Applications for Mixed-Reality Experiences

Alessandra Meschini, Daniele Rossi, Enrica Petrucci, Filippo Sicuranza
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0680-5.ch011
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The purpose of this chapter is to investigate some of the opportunities offered by technological innovations, in particular referring the specific application areas of Augmented Reality and Augmented Virtuality. The contribution presents a series of applications based on effective tests of innovative communication, which are characterized by different levels of interactivity and immersion. The general subject of interest is the city of Ascoli Piceno considering both the city as a whole and particular places/buildings of value (case studies). The central aim is to construct an informational/educational approach to real objects in innovative terms, experimenting each time with the most useful ‘container' (communicational product) to enable the best knowledge of a determined heritage.
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This contribution presents a series of applications realized within some research objectives addressed by the authors in recent years. The experiences are based on effective tests of the relationships between the instruments/procedures used and concrete examples of innovative communication, which are characterized by different levels of interactivity and immersion.

This contribution also investigates some of the opportunities offered by technological innovations, in particular, applications that favour an articulated, profitable combination of real and virtual, or rather, the specific application areas of Augmented Reality and Augmented Virtuality. In the first case, multimedia information is superimposed on the real experience, so the subject of the experience basically moves in a real space that expands thanks to additional overlaying levels of information. In contrast, in the second case, elements, objects, and real people are introduced into a virtual space, so the experience occurs within the digital space with different degrees of immersion. In both cases, what users perceive can be substantially influenced by their active behaviour.

Different levels of interaction exist between the subject and the real/virtual space. These are related to devices that, acting as interfaces, establish feedback or a return of information, thus fruitfully orienting cognitive needs and triggering an increasing interest in exploration. Since the differences between the various applications are becoming more subtle and/or unclear with time, the term ‘mixed reality’ is now used. This is a concept more generally referable to any application in which real or virtual situations are enriched with additional content.

Despite their differences, the experiments are based on a series of unifying choices. First, they are related by the willingness to construct a new documentary and informational/educational approach to the architectural and urban quality of the city of Ascoli Piceno. Both the city as a whole and particular places/buildings of value were considered and explored according to itineraries that propose the discovery the importance of the urban fabric.

The second choice common to the applications focused on expanding the real or virtual ‘3D model/space’ in the direction of both Augmented Reality/Virtuality and the web space by integration and fusion with different types of ‘environments’ on different levels of interaction. The intent was to propose approaches to knowledge that can favour access to information, even for the non-expert user. The 3D model of the cultural, architectural, or urban heritage is therefore intended as a ‘participatory’ place par excellence, a favoured interface for accessing cultural content, which, through the use of easy-to-use, low-cost systems and devices, allows different 3D scenes to be explored.

Another unifying aspect regards the type of data underlying the content communicated by the applications, that is, the data constituting the expansion of the 3D models. This is related to different archival resources (maps, iconography, drawings, historical images, documents, etc.). In this sense, the applications are proposed as new ‘cultural occasions’ through which heritage conservation does not stop at the preservation of material aspects, but rather is realized through the preparation of particular technological applications that can update ways of visualizing and interpreting the heritages housed in the archive for their active appreciation. Locating, cataloguing, organizing, digitalizing (in some cases also georeferencing) the archival data and then building interconnections with the 3D interfaces not only on a technological but especially on a methodological level, were therefore actions taken for all the experiments realized. The quality and reliability of the original data and the content produced were obviously carefully controlled.

In all the applications described herein, the central aim is based on constructing a methodological model of the knowledge of reality in innovative terms, experimenting each time with the most useful ‘container’ (knowledge/communicational product) to permit the best, widest spread of the knowledge of a determined cultural heritage. This means proposing applications in which the subject, for example, ‘attends’ a representation in a real space or ‘explores’ a real environment overlaid with virtual elements, or is even ‘immersed’ in a virtual space.

Key Terms in this Chapter

CMS: Acronym that means content management system. Is a computer application that allows publishing, editing and modifying content, organizing, deleting as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment. These procedures can be manual steps or an automated cascade. CMSs have been available since the late 1990s. The function of Content Management Systems is to store and organize files, and provide version-controlled access to their data. A CMS may serve as a digital asset management system containing documents, movies, pictures, scientific data. CMSs can be used for storing, controlling, revising, semantically enriching and publishing documentation.

PHP: Originally derived from Personal Home Page Tools, now stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. Is a script language and interpreter designed for web development that is freely available and used primarily on Linux Web servers. The PHP code is embedded within a Web page along with its HTML. Before the page is sent to a user that has requested it, the Web server calls PHP to interpret and perform the operations called for in the PHP script. PHP can be thought of as “dynamic HTML pages,” since content will vary based on the results of interpreting the script. PHP is free and offered under an open source license.

Edutainment: Is a neologism that expresses the marriage of education and entertainment in a work. Therefore is content designed to educate and to entertain. It includes content that is primarily educational but has incidental entertainment value, and content that is mostly entertaining but contains educational value. The act of learning through a medium that both educates and entertains. The process of entertaining people at the same time as you are teaching them something, and the products, such as any of various communication media, that do this.

SQL: Acronym that means Structured Query Language. Is a standard interactive and programming language for getting information from and updating a database (such as Microsoft's SQL Server). Although SQL is both an ANSI and an ISO standard, many database products support SQL with proprietary extensions to the standard language. Queries take the form of a command language that lets you select, insert, update, find out the location of data, and so forth. There is also a programming interface.

HTML: Acronym that means Hypertext Markup Language. Is the set of markup symbols or codes inserted in a file intended for display on a World Wide Web browser page. The markup tells the Web browser how to display a Web page's words and images for the user. Each individual markup code is referred to as an element. HTML is a formal Recommendation by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and is generally adhered to by the major browsers, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Navigator, which also provide some additional non-standard codes.

X3DOM (X3D + DOM): The name is composed of two abbreviations. The first one is X3D (“Extensible 3D Graphics”), which denotes a royalty-free ISO standard for declarative 3D graphics. The second abbreviation is DOM (“Document Object Model”), which describes the interaction concepts and hierarchical representations that are associated with the content of HTML documents.

Database: A database is a collection of information (data) that is organized so that it can easily be accessed, managed, and updated. It is the collection of schemes, tables, queries, reports, views and other objects. The data is typically organized to model aspects of reality in a way that supports processes requiring information. In one view, databases can be classified according to types of content: bibliographic, full-text, numeric, and images.

Spatial Augmented Reality (SAR): Spatial Augmented Reality augments real world objects and scenes without the use of special displays such as monitors, head mounted displays or hand-held devices. SAR makes use of digital projectors to display graphical information onto physical objects. The key difference in SAR is that the display is separated from the users of the system. Because the displays are not associated with each user, SAR scales naturally up to groups of users, thus allowing for collocated collaboration between users.

Augmented Reality (AR): The term augmented reality was thought to be coined in the early nineties by Thomas Caudell, at the time senior principal scientist at the computer services division of Boeing. The verb augment refers to the action of adding to something in order to make it more substantial. It derives from the Latin augere meaning 'to increase'. The computer science world’s definition of augmented reality (AR) is: the interaction of superimposed graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a real-world environment that’s displayed in real-time. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality. In fundamental terms, the expression refers to a simple combination of real and virtual (computer-generated) worlds. Given a real subject, captured on video or camera, the technology 'augments' (= adds to) that real-world image with extra layers of digital information such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. Augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements. With the help of advanced AR technology (e.g. adding computer vision and object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally manipulable.

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