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Headlines Published on 24 June 2005

Title EU-funded project puts a shine on virtual museums

A new virtual reality system for scanning and exhibiting museum artefacts has been developed by EU researchers. The technology promises to reproduce faithfully the surface texture and shine of displayed items

A rendered image of Minerva di Arezzo. © ViHAP3D
A rendered image of Minerva di Arezzo.
Europe’s cultural heritage is a valuable reminder of the past and an equally valuable asset to tourism economies. Research to develop more innovative ways of presenting cultural and historical artefacts in museums only serves to enhance our appreciation of these treasured vestiges of times gone by. A new system developed by the EU-funded ViHAP3D project does just this, presenting cultural artefacts using high-resolution 3D virtual reality graphics.

The ViHAP3D – Virtual heritage: high-quality 3D acquisition and presentation – project set out not only to preserve and promote cultural heritage, but also to improve its presentation and people’s ability to access it. With €1.4 million in Fifth Framework Programme research funding, the results have really shone through.

The project’s coordinator, Christel Weins of the Max-Planck Institut für Informatik, said the team developed the procedure – combining the object's geometry, appearance and glossiness – for capturing 3D models with their reflective properties. The picture data is collected in the photographic studio, where the team lights up facets of the object from different angles to determine the reflection characteristics of every point of the surface.

The project, funded by the Information Society Technologies (IST) programme, has developed post-processing systems for representing and rendering the 3D objects – leading to the publication of over 20 scientific papers. Work by the Italian, Spanish and German team has also been undertaken on displaying the artefacts.

"The ViHAP3D partners from Spain developed a virtual museum builder and browser that enables you to take these digital artefacts from the database and create your own museum,” notes Weins.

Virtual detail
One handy feature of the system is that the digital replicas can be viewed as well on humble laptops as fancy high-speed media playing computers. The system supports the use of virtual reality applications and projection screens for viewing stereoscopic images. Images suitable for ordinary laptops and workstations are prepared in advance by the ViHAP3D system so that only processed images need to be displayed.

The process involved taking a computerised wire-frame geometry – simplifying some of the detail to cut back the amount of computing power required – to which the reflecting characteristics of the object are then applied.

Feedback from museums and experts about the system has been very positive, says Weins. For example, a virtual kiosk has been set up in a museum in Pisa, Italy, where various user studies have been carried out showing a high level of acceptance and usability of the system. It is early days for the recently completed three-year project, but commercial interest is not out of the question with some further research and modifications to the system.

"The 3D browser is stable and useable, and we have the algorithm for digitising 3D objects," says Weins. But the algorithm is not that usable in its current state for non-experts, so training is needed to carry out the process. “There is currently no commercial solution that can adequately handle the huge datasets that the digitising process produces. Perhaps there's scope here for a further project involving research institutes, commercial concerns and industrial partners," she suggests.

Source:  IST Results

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