Historic collections could be lost to ‘digital dinosaurs’

An image of Australian shearers taken on glass plate negative is now preserved in a digital collection. Powerhouse Museum Collection/Flickr

An image of Australian shearers taken on glass plate negative is now preserved in a digital collection. Powerhouse Museum Collection/Flickr

By Michael Brünig, CSIRO

Australian’s museums, galleries and other cultural institutions must adopt more of a digital strategy with their collections if they are to remain relevant with audiences.

Only about a quarter of the collections held by the sector have been digitised so far and a study out today says more needs to be done to protect and preserve the material, and make it available to people online.

Challenges and Opportunities for Australia’s Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums is a joint study by CSIRO and the Smart Services CRC.

It notes that Australia’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums (the GLAM sector) represent our accumulated achievements and experiences, inspire creativity and provide a place for us to connect with our heritage.

They are also crucial to our economy with the GLAM sector estimated to have a revenue of about A$2.5 billion each year. That’s not only a lot of paintings and artifacts, but a lot of jobs as well.

But despite its size and scope, we found that digital innovation in the sector has been inconsistent and isolated. If these cultural institutions don’t increase their use of digital technologies and services, they risk losing their relevance.

So what changes do they need to make in order to thrive in the digital economy?

Opening doors and minds

With Australia’s rapid uptake of online and mobile platforms, people are now choosing to access and share information in very different ways.

It’s safe to say that the only constant in this space is change. Research suggests that expectations for more personalised, better and faster services and more well-designed experiences will continue to increase.

Virtual tours are now possible at the National Museum of Australia.

Virtual tours are now possible at the National Museum of Australia.

This is why our cultural institutions need to review the kind of visitor experience they are providing. We found only a few organisations had made fundamental changes to their operations that would allow them to place digital services at their core, rather than as an add-on activity.

This is in contrast to the dramatic changes we’ve seen when it comes to adopting digital technologies in our daily lives.

In order to be successful, digital experiences need to be an integrated and cohesive part of an institution’s offering.

Take what is happening at the National Museum of Australia. It’s now possible to take a tour of the museum via a telepresence-enabled robot.

This means school students – particularly those in rural and regional Australia – can explore exhibits virtually, without even leaving the classroom. Interestingly, we hear that this actually increases their desire to visit the museum in person.

Digital-savvy innovations such as this need to be at the fore of our institutions’ thinking if they want to engage with the community and break down barriers to participation.

Engaging with the public

To be successful in this new era, institutions need to meet people on their own (digital) terms. We can no longer expect visitors to queue at the turnstiles waiting for opening time. Organisations need to bring experiences to the user so that they can access them wherever and however they prefer.

Some of Australia’s cultural institutions are starting to get this.

Another image available freely online as part of the Powerhouse Museum Collection. Powerhouse Museum/Flickr

Another image available freely online as part of the Powerhouse Museum Collection. Powerhouse Museum/Flickr

The NSW State Library has appointed a Wikipedian-In-Residence to contribute expertise and train the public in publishing information online.

The National Library of Australia has attracted a large online user base with its online Trove service attracting almost 70,000 unique users each day.

The Powerhouse Museum has made parts of their photographic collections available on Flickr via Creative Commons licensing. This has caused a surge in the level of use and allowed the public to contribute information, adding value to the collection.

While these examples provide a lot of hope for the sector, the unfortunate reality is that they are few and far between. Most of Australia’s cultural institutions have not kept pace with this change and are missing the opportunity to better connect and actually increase their revenue.

Digitise this!

Australia’s eight national, state and territory art organisations hold archives that, if laid out flat end-to-end, would span 629km. This is on top of a staggering 100,000 million artworks, books and audio-visual items in Australia.

But only a quarter of these items are digitised, with some of Australia’s collections still being managed through “old school” mechanisms such as log books and card indices.

Imagine if there was a fire at one of our great institutions? We would risk losing cultural and heritage material of significance. Parts of our history could be completely lost. Even without such a devastating event, if we don’t make our collections more accessible, in a sense they’ll be lost to many of us anyway.

As a country, not only do we need to get moving when it comes to digitising our collections, we also need to explore new and innovative ways to do this. Traditionally, digitisation has meant scanning flat documents, photographing objects or creating electronic versions of catalogue data.

But what if we could do so much more? Researchers are now focused on the next challenge: digitising objects and spaces in three dimensions.

Researchers from the University of Wollongong with support from the Smart Services CRC are focusing on capturing 3D models and the textures of surfaces using low-cost equipment such as a Kinect camera from an Xbox.

3D map of The Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

3D map of The Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

At CSIRO, we’ve even used our own handheld scanner Zebedee to map culturally and environmentally significant sites suchb as the Jenolan Caves, Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance and even a semi-submerged wreckage of the HMQS Gayundah.

We’re also creating high-quality 2D and 3D image libraries based on the National Biological Collections, letting us document biodiversity in the digital era.

Embracing the digital economy

While our study reveals that Australia’s cultural institutions are certainly at risk of becoming “digital dinosaurs”, it also demonstrated how those organisations that are embracing digital are reaping the benefits.

It provides recommendations for the GLAM industry in order for it to maximise its digital potential, including:

  • shifting to open access models and greater collaboration with the public
  • exploring new approaches to copyright management that stimulate creativity and support creators
  • building on aggregation initiatives such as the Atlas of Living Australia
  • standardising preservation of “born digital” material to avoid losing access to digital heritage
  • exploiting the potential of Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet) and the National Broadband Network (NBN) for collection and collaboration.

By adopting these recommendations and building on some innovative examples in the sector, Australia’s GLAM industry will be well placed to embrace digital, rather than be engulfed by it.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article 


Our 3D thermal scanner is so hot right now

By Emily Lehmann

If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, you might bring your hand to your forehead and take note of your temperature. Just like your mama used to do.

Running a high temperature is an age-old giveaway that you’re sick with a fever and that you better check in with your doc or stay at home in your PJs.

Like your body heat is a sign of a fever, deep down at a cellular level, it can also be an indicator of other serious illnesses and diseases. Cancer is one example because cancer cells are typically higher in temperature than healthy cells.

We’ve come up with a hot new thermal mapping and 3D imaging technology called HeatWave that could one day be used by health professionals to detect and monitor certain cancers.

HeatWave could be usef for early detection and monitoring of injury and disease.

HeatWave could be used for early detection and monitoring of injury and disease.

A key advantage of thermal scanning is that it’s radiation-free, reducing risks to patients imposed by other forms of tomography and repeat scans can be undertaken after shorter periods of time.

While there are other thermal scanning technologies out there being used by health professionals, unlike HeatWave, they are only capable of producing 2D images.

This means that repeat images need to be taken at exactly the same angle to achieve an accurate picture of changes to the area of the body. They are also difficult and require years of practice and expertise – something which HeatWave overcomes.

The HeatWave device

The HeatWave device

Early cancer detection is just one of the many great applications envisaged for the technology and we’ve just won an award for it.

HeatWave took home the national research and development award at the iAwards on Friday night, recognised as a cutting edge innovation.

The handheld mobile technology can generate precise 3D models of objects or scenes, overlaid with accurate temperature information in real time.

Consisting of a 3D camera and thermal sensors, HeatWave can be literally waved around objects and spaces to collect data. This data is then turned into high-resolution 3D images.

Thermal imaging is growing rapidly and HeatWave is expected to have a range of applications in industries including energy, construction, manufacturing, agriculture and emergency services.

Media enquiries:  Emily Lehmann on +61 3 9545 8746 or emily.lehmann@csiro.au

Industry enquiries: Dr Peyman Moghadam on +61 7 3253 3621 or peyman.moghadam@csiro.au


Will robots ResQu our rainforests from weeds?

By Carrie Bengston

Want to go for a walk in a rainforest? Join us!

We push our way past vines tangled around tree limbs in the dark, multilayered forest.  As we walk, we’re aware that we’re the only people in this tranquil environment. But it’s a place that’s home to rare and unique birds like the cassowary, a fantastic collection of fungi, and unusual mammals like the tree kangaroo. We step across clear, freshwater creeks (plus or minus leeches) and we listen to leaves rustle in the canopy as a thunderstorm approaches, rumbling in the distance.

Our rainforests are precious and incredibly biodiverse. For example, the rainforests of Far North Queensland, which include the iconic Daintree, occupy less than 0.2 per cent of Australia’s land mass. Yet they support more than ten percent of its flora, 36 per cent of its mammals and 48 per cent of its birds. Rainforests are confined to small patches clustered mostly in inaccessible, mountainous regions along the tropical coast. It’s important we look after these amazing habitats. Unfortunately, a purple-leafed weed, Miconia calvescens, has escaped from its natural habitat overseas via introduction into Aussie gardens and nurseries (which has since been banned) and has made its way into our World Heritage rainforests.

Miconia calvescens

The miconia calvescens, image: Forest & Kim Starr

Purple is a great colour. Don’t get us wrong. But these purple weeds have no place in our rainforests as they compete viciously for space, and squeeze out our native plants. The Miconia menace is taking over the rainforests of Tahiti and other countries. We don’t want that happening here. So we’ve called on an unlikely ally to stop Miconia getting a roothold – robotic technology.

We’ve been participating in a research project, Project ResQu, to trial robot helicopters that could do some of the weed spotting people currently do. Weed spotters work on the ground pushing through dense forest or flying above in manned helicopters, but robots can do the job better and safer. We recently put that to the test.

UAV in flight

UAV in flight. Image: Stefan Hrabar

The robots did well. The robot helicopters, fitted with radar and special cameras and given quirky names like ‘Hotel Golf’, found several Miconia infestations missed by other methods of surveillance. Here’s how we did it.

Will robots save the rainforest? They just might.

About Project ResQu:

Project ResQu is a two-year, $7M project led by the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA) in a collaborative project between the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), CSIRO, Boeing and Insitu Pacific with the support of the Queensland State Government Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts.

Media contact: Emma Pyers, 03 5227 5123, 0409 031 658, emma.pyers@csiro.au


Bungees get wet – for science

Bungee jumper

Not this kind of bungy. Image: Flickr/fauzay

When you hear the word ‘bungee’ you don’t immediately think of ocean research. But the daredevil’s rubbery, stretchy friend is now doing its bit to assist in ocean and coastal science.

In order to hold monitoring equipment in place, marine and aquaculture researchers currently use chain to attach their equipment to moorings anchored to the ocean floor.

This is effective, but it can have some undesirable side effects. Marine chain is heavy. It has to be to withstand the power of the ocean. Unfortunately, this means that the weight of the chain moorings can damage the delicate sea floor, gouging bits out as it drags along.

Chain also takes up a lot of space. Because there needs to be some give (to prevent it from snapping), the chain needs to be much longer than the depth of the water. This is also a factor for aquaculture – the more ocean floor real estate occupied by chain, the less room they have for their production.

So what if there were a mooring that dispensed with the need for all that chain? A little lateral thinking, and … meet our home-grown bungee mooring, developed in partnership with Hobart-based company Specialised Industrial Products.

Just the same way as a standard bungee cord stretches and stretches and S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-S, so does the rubber cord attached to the mooring hardware – up to five times its length at rest. This allows it to move with the dynamics of the water, instead of resisting it. As a result, the mooring can be smaller, lighter and take up less space on the ocean floor.

A bungee that goes UP.

A bungee that goes UP.

Not only that – the slimline design means it’s less vulnerable to fouling, which is the encrusting of small marine animals, plants and algae on the surface. That reduces the drag and load even further. Stretching instead of straining also lessens the stress on the coupling points, saving investment costs, maintenance cost and downtime. Our new bungee cords are estimated to have twice the working life of a traditional chain mooring, at about the same initial cost – around $1000 each.

This is just one of a, er, raft (see what we did there?) of marine innovations we have made in collaboration with industry. For more information contact Tim Lynch on tim.lynch@csiro.au or (03) 6232 5239.


3D printed bling!

Here at our titanium 3D printing facility Lab 22, we print all sorts of things. From biomedical devices like this sleep apnoea mouth guard, to titanium lugs for this bicycle manufacturer.

We do this because 3D printing has a bucket load of advantages over traditional manufacturing methods. It reduces wasted material, brings down costs, speeds up development and allows for product customisation. It’s a technology that is already opening up doors in the automotive, aerospace and health industries.

Now, Australia’s local design community is jumping on 3D printing. With rapid prototyping, the technology is allowing designers to bridge the gap between the conceptual and tangible with a press of a button.

As part of the Sydney Design Festival, underway this week, the Third Dimension Pop Up exhibition is showcasing what Australian designers are achieving with this innovative technology. Here’s one of the titanium pieces we printed at Lab22 for local designer Caitlin Dubler. We think it’s pretty cool.

Read more about our 3D printing facilities on our website.


Dropping a bombshell on women in science

By Emily Lehmann

Cathy Foley

Dr Cathy Foley

If you thought Wikipedia had everything covered, then you were wrong.

Online activists have dropped the bomb that women scientists, despite their long history of achievements, are underrepresented on the site.

To ‘write’ this wrong and give greater recognition to women in science, the activists fired Australia’s first Wikibomb.

As part of National Science Week, 140 people from across the country bombarded Wikipedia with entries about Australian women in science – old and new.

Not only have these activists got Wikipedia up to speed, they’ve also helped highlight an important issue for science in Australia: the gender gap. There are significantly fewer females working in science than males. There are even fewer women in leadership positions and some areas of physics and engineering have as little as five per cent female participation.

One of Australia’s leading scientists and Science Director for our Manufacturing Flagship, Dr Cathy Foley, has written about the number of reasons for this.

There are practical reasons, such as women departing the workforce to have children. Many of these women change careers and move away from science.

There are also cultural reasons. Science can be ‘blokey’ and very competitive. Often women don’t get the same kinds of accolades and awards, don’t apply for the same jobs, grants, prizes and can’t progress in the same way.

So why bridge this gap?

There is strong evidence that companies operating with a gender-balance actually enhance their ability to innovate and gain a competitive advantage.

If we want to solve the biggest problems we need to have all the best minds working towards it, including men and women.

Speaking recently at the 2014 Ruby Payne-Scott Lecture at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, Cathy shared her thoughts on women in science and what can be done to bridge the gap:

View the transcript.


Ghostbusting in the Gulf

By Eamonn Bermingham

scissors cutting turtle net

A rescued turtle off the Northern Australian coast.

The Gulf of Carpentaria off Australia’s northern coast has one of the highest rates of abandoned fishing nets, or so-called ghostnets, anywhere in the world.  In fact, up to three tonnes of netting washes ashore each year for every kilometre of coastline.

Unfortunately, all of these nets can have a big impact on our marine life.  Getting caught in nets is one of the most common causes of death for marine turtles in Australia. Ghostnets have also been known to catch dugongs, sharks, and fish species and cause damage to coral reefs and seabeds. What’s more, they can create shipping lane hazards and introduce alien species into vulnerable ecosystems.

While ghostnets can cause big issues, the good news is that our researchers have found a way to tackle the problem.

Working with Ghostnets Australia and Indigenous rangers, we analysed data from more than 8,000 ghostnets retrieved from the region’s coastline over a seven year period. We found that 5000 to 15000 turtles had been caught in the nets during this time.

According to lead scientist Dr Chris Wilcox, as well as quantifying the problem for the first time, the team was able to find a solution that will allow regulators to manage the issue more effectively.

“Using the data collected and oceanographic modelling we’ve identified a pinch-point at the north-eastern section of the Gulf near Weipa where nets can be intercepted and removed relatively cheaply – before they reach high-density turtle areas,” he said.

Northern Australia map

The Gulf of Carpentaria has one of the highest rates of abandoned fishing nets in the world.

As well as creating a healthier marine environment and a more sustainable fishing industry in the region, the study will improve our understanding of the overall global threat from marine debris. This will inform regulation, enforcement, and conservation action.

If you’re interested in finding out more about marine debris, check out our website.

Ghostnets Australia is an alliance of indigenous communities stretching across Northern Australia from the Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria to the Kimberleys.


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