European culture industry shows a steady growth trajectory in the last decades, with an annual growth rate that exceeds 10% from 2010 onwards.Increasing attendance and technological developments are changing the way visitors perceive the museum space itself, its exhibits, and its collections. Electronic recording and presentation of cultural objects, has helped the transition of interest from the object as a set of material properties, to the information surrounding it and the way of presenting it. An important aspect of this new digital reality is the possibility of documenting and presenting the very methods of processing, maintenance, restoration, and composition of the exhibits.Curators of exhibits and exhibition spaces, are interested in understanding the impact of exhibits on visitors, e.g., the time they spend on them, or peak hours in specific areas of the museum space,to formulate targeted visitor-centric exhibition strategies, and optimize the management of visitors’ traffic during peak hours. Despite rapid development and application of numerous technologies for monitoring user behaviour within a space, large-scale data collection and analysis techniques within museums have not evolved significantly. Manual surveys (electronic and hard copy) and observational studies (usually expensive and time-consuming) are still – to this day – widely used.
The MELTOPENLAB project , addresses the afore-mentioned issues in a holistic manner, by developing and pilot-operating, an advanced and cost-effective integrated information system for exhibition facilities, such as Museums, Multi-Cultural spaces, and Open Labs. On one hand, the project focuses, on the digital documentation of exhibits / objects of modern cultural heritage and methods of their restoration / conservation and presentation. In this context, an Open Workshop of innovative fabric conservation and restoration techniques is created and equipped, and relevant ontologies of exhibit documentation / presentation and their conservation / restoration methods are implemented. On the other hand, the project focuses in developing an advanced information system for capturing visitor movement in near real-time (in both eponymous and anonymous mode) and analyzing collected data. The system is designed in a cost-effective approach, i.e., employing technologies that are both available and energy-efficient, and is used as a platform, upon which innovative applications provide a personalized presentation and learning / entertainment experience, record and evaluate visitor interest, behavior, and satisfaction.
MELTOPENLAB integrates technologies from different cognitive areas, such as:
- conceptual models of Semantic Structures and Linked Data for developing Ontologies that document cultural entities,
- Indoor Human Detection / Tracking,
- Statistical Analysis of Geospatial Data,
- Fabric Maintenance & Restoration.
 MELTOPENLAB (https://meltopenlab.gr/) is an R&D project in the area of Culture, co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), in the context of the Hellenic ESPA Operational Programme.
The Information System and Applications that have been developed and prototyped, are pilot- applied to the artefacts and exhibition collections spaces and archival material, documentation / maintenance / restoration procedures in selected exhibits (simple and complex concepts) of the Museum of Modern Greek Culture (MNEP) in Athens, Greece. MNEP is the only public museum dealing with the tangible and intangible modern Greek cultural heritage. For more than 100 years it has been rescuing, studying, and highlighting everyday life and ritual symbols and objects, information on morals and customs, traditional arts, and techniques, which make up the modern Greek reality. The orientation of the Museum’s collection policy and documentary / interpretive approach necessitates the change of its name in 2018 to Museum of Modern Greek Culture. It is relocated to Monastiraki area (next to local Metro station), in an entire building block that defines a neighborhood where the urban, architectural and social evolution of Athens from late antiquity to the present day is vividly captured.
The project focuses on:
- digital documentation of exhibits / objects of modern cultural heritage and methods of their restoration / conservation and presentation.
- creating and equipping an Open Laboratory of innovative fabric conservation and restoration techniques.
- forming ontologies for describing and evaluating artefacts and collections, conservation and restoration methods and theirspatial allocations.
- developing a tool for capturing visitor movement in near real-time (nRT) in both eponymous and anonymous manner.
- utilize eponymous tracking for creation and provision of personalized presentation, entertainment and learning experience to visitors via a mobile application.
- analyze anonymous tracking statistics for evaluation of exhibits through visitor experience (interest, behavior, rating),provided to Museum managers via an appropriate application.
The following ontologies are integrated in MELTOPENLAB:
- Cultural Exhibits Ontology (CEO): hosted in the Artefacts Repository (AR) in which the cultural objects of the museum are organised semantically, the CEO proposed by MELTOPENLAB, combines different metadata standards for artefact documentation.
- Exhibits Reputation Ontology (ERO): hosted in the Artefacts Repository (AR) in which visitors’ ratings of exhibits provided during physical visit, as well as metrics / indicators evaluating their popularity based on visitor behaviour, are accumulated.
- Conservation Methods Ontology (CMO): hosted in the Artefacts Repository (AR), complements CEO, providing documentation on methods used for conservation / preservation and restoration of artefacts. Part of it is physically demonstrated in the Open Lab implemented in the context of the project, in MNEP premises.
- Museum Spatial Ontology (MSO): floor plans with exhibit allocation and coverage areas (cells) of installed sensors in the museum spaces, are integrated into the AR and overall system, providing support to both MEC (visitor experience) and MEA (visitor statistics) services.
The following Tools and Applications are developed and integrated in MELTOPENLAB:
- Visitor Clustering Tool (VCT): functionality supporting system recommendations / content personalization for eponymous users-visitors, by dynamically providing visiting routes comprising of selected museum exhibits, based on visitor-profile (static demographic data) and interaction (dynamic movement & rating data). VCT is also responsible for feeding exhibit ratings made by visitors using MEC, to the system repository (to be integrated into reputation ontology – ERO)
- Museum Experience Creation (MEC): mobile application (developed in both Android and iOS platforms) acting as system front-end to visitors, delivering personalized content, if the visitor consents to the use of personal data, thus becoming an eponymous user. Anonymous visitors may also use the application, receiving generic content relevant to their location in the museum. MEC depends on VTT tool for visitor location (current cell) update in near-RT, VCT tool for route (static / dynamic) recommendations and the repository (AR) for content on cell exhibits and routes.
- Museum Experience Analysis (MEA): server application, acting as system front-end to museum administrators, providing and visualizing useful statistics evaluating exhibits / routes and creating insights to visitor behavior during physical visit. MEA calculates popular indicators such as Attraction Power (AP), Holding Power (HP) & Revisiting Power (RP), aggregating visitor traffic (eponymous / anonymous) provided by the VTT tool and feeds these indicators to the repository (ERO). Museum curators may access presentations, including visualizations of visitor statistics and traffic thermographs (heatmaps), popular routes and user ratings for exhibits.
- Visitor Tracking Tool (VTT): middleware providing a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) based tracking of museum visitors, detecting visitor BLE beacon signal strength (RSSI), using sensors (BLE gateways) installed in museum rooms, defining cells (corresponding to thematic sets of exhibits). Proximity tracking implemented is near-RT (updates between 2-4 sec/s), comprising advanced filtering to increase accuracy, including signal equalization (minimize noise due to intense multipath fading and shadowing effects), use of hybrid technology (RFID in part of museum spaces covered) to aid cell detection,tables (graphs) of allowed transitions between cells, etc.VTT provides visitor location (current cell) to both MEC (on-demand / automated) and MEA (automated) applications, while both anonymous and eponymous visitors, roam museum spaces, carrying wearable e-Tickets and smartphones.
The following figure depicts the above system components in the generic functional architecture of MELTOPENLAB.
The project is currently performing Pilot Operation, validating functionalities and evaluating tools and applications for visitors and museum administrators. Preliminary results are analyzed and documented.