IBM and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Collaborate to Preserve Works of Art
IBM and the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the successful installation of a new wireless environmental sensor network at the Museum called Low-Power Mote that will help preserve the works of art in its world-renowned, encyclopedic collection. This technology has recently been installed and is currently being tested at the Cloisters museum and gardens, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Located in northern Manhattan, the Cloisters has a collection of approximately 3,000 works of art, most dating from the 12th through the 15th century, ranging from illuminated manuscripts to polychrome wood sculptures, paintings, and tapestries.
“This pilot project has the potential to become an important tool in the Metropolitan Museum’s ongoing efforts to achieve the best environmental conditions for the works of art in our care,” said Paolo Dionisi Vici, Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Scientific Research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “This new technology offers a real-time, detailed picture of the environment, and we are now working on an upgrade that will also monitor the actual reactions of the works of art to the environment. These developments have the potential for us to create ‘sensing environments’ for works of art that will provide constant feedback, enabling conservators, curators, and facilities experts to fine-tune their approaches to establishing and adapting as necessary the exhibition and storage conditions.”
Works of art are very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature, relative humidity, and other environmental conditions. To preserve them for posterity, the climate in the galleries is tightly controlled and sealed cases are used for the most delicate objects. Working with experts at the Metropolitan Museum to address the complex environment associated with art conservation, scientists from IBM Research are implementing the comprehensive solution called Low-Power Mote technology. This involves time-stamped data collection through a wireless sensor network, data storage with real-time visualization, modeling, and analysis. This results in an ultra-low-power physical analytics technique that, combined with cloud computing capabilities, allows micro-environment sensing and more precise and accurate modeling.
In the initial phase, IBM has deployed 100 sensors in strategic locations in several adjacent rooms of the Museum, allowing for high-definition monitoring of the environment that captures the subtle dynamics of the space. Sensors measure temperature, humidity, air flow, contamination levels, door positions, light levels, and more. All of the data is fed into a software application where it is modeled to provide detailed real-time 3D temperature, humidity, and dew-point distributions. A distinct feature of this technology lies in its unique analytical capabilities, which leverage several physics-based models for optimum operation, and controls and make it possible to generate and visualize hydrodynamic flows in real time.
With this unique analytics technology, the Metropolitan Museum’s scientists and conservators will be able to probe localized variations in climate developing detailed microclimate maps of the galleries at the Cloisters. The measurements will also enable the Museum’s scientists to correlate the reaction of art objects to environmental changes in order to develop object-oriented tests and predictive models for art preservation more accurately. This advance, which represents a shift from monitoring the environment to creating a sensing environment, will eventually be expanded to the Museum’s main building on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street in Manhattan as well.
Next steps for this technology include expanding over additional galleries of the museum, with the goal of developing an improved understanding of the effect of micro-climatic variations eventually leading to a fundamentally better approach to preservation of the art objects, throughout the museum.
“This project is a prime example of IBM’s physical analytics capabilities that can help predict and forecast change, and we’re pleased we can collaborate with the Metropolitan Museum to preserve treasured artifacts for generations to come,” said Hendrik Hamann, research manager, IBM Research. “This technology has emerged out of IBM’s work on the energy optimization of industrial spaces such as computer datacenters, and represents a migration of this approach to other industrial and public spaces that can employ a vast variety of networked sensors. Whether it be an art object, or any other monitoring criteria within a building or a campus, building operators need to gain a better understanding of the environmental conditions that are impacting their spaces. IBM’s Low-Power Mote Technology can help users gain access to real-time physical data and its interpretation, enabling quick and accurate predicts.”