How IoT Can Aid in the Conservation of Built Heritage

Case study
Blogpost preview image conservation heritage
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by Julie Sylvest

The Colosseum in Rome was registered with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1980 as a world heritage site. National Geographic reports the massive construction of the Colosseum began between C.E. 70 and 72. Standing since the 1st century, now millions of tourists a year visit the monument, learn about its rich history, and reflect on the past.

As with any cultural heritage site, proper monitoring and maintenance are essential to conserve and to continue extending the structural lifetime. The IoT brings a modern-day solution to continuous monitoring.

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IoT for conserving cultural heritage

UNESCO defines the conservation of cultural heritage as the actions taken to preserve the characteristics of the heritage while strengthening its importance. Cultural heritage is divided into two categories, tangible and intangible. Tangible heritage can be movable such as paintings, sculptures, and furniture, and immovable including historical buildings, monuments, and archeological sites. Intangible cultural heritage includes oral traditions and expressions, science & habits, and traditional skills.

The IoT’s wireless sensor network supports the conservation of tangible heritage. LPWAN technologies are particularly suitable for these projects, as they involve low-bandwidth, battery-powered devices that can be used over long distances. Real-time monitoring gives predictive and data-driven insights for quick decision-making and trend analysis.

However, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for heritage sites. Depending on the needs and constraints will dictate the installation of sensors, deployment types of monitors, and data interpretation frequency. Depending on the use case, dynamic or static monitoring can be deployed. Dynamic monitoring measures forceful actions such as vibrations during operating conditions and natural phenomena such as earthquakes. Static monitoring is continuous measurements of data over a long period of time. This can include tensions, stresses, and cracks. For example, the evolution of crack formation requires at least 18 months of data.

How IoT addresses immovable cultural heritage in Italy

There are many cases in which IoT helps to conserve cultural heritage. In this article, we will look at two examples of how IoT helps to monitor the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and the Colosseum in Italy.

  • Ponte Vecchio Bridge

The Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence is one of Italy’s oldest, most historic landmarks. In 2016, an underground pipe burst creating a massive sinkhole, which was formed only steps away from the bridge. Although this event did not cause any structural damage, the shock created worry about the potential of another future disaster. In combination with the immense foot traffic the bridge receives each year, IoT monitors the stability of the bridge and nearby land. To preserve as much of the bridge as possible, IoT sensors had to be wireless and long-range. Eight sensors were placed on the bridge in a way to not damage the integrity of the structure. The sensors track ground movements and soil structure and provide real-time data. IoT gives the city confidence in the structural architecture of the bridge and allows for a quick reaction in the event of a structural shift.

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  • The Colosseum

In 2021, part of the Rome metro that connects the eastern part of the city to the northwest underwent construction. The construction crossed several historic districts and was near to the Colosseum. The construction site can cause vibrations, making tracking and understanding these movements crucial to protect the historical architecture from damage. In this project, wireless accelerometers, tiltmeters, and probes were connected to the Colosseum. This process was non-invasive and to reduce visual impact, the sensors were painted to camouflage into the building.

Challenges for IoT in heritage sites

Heritage sites can vary in location, connectivity options, and requirements. Depending on the complexity of the project, implementing IoT can be more complicated. We will look at three challenges for IoT in heritage sites.

  • Limited connectivity

In many instances, wireless connectivity usually works for heritage sites. Yet some sites may need partly wired solutions to achieve full coverage. Sites located in remote areas may not have 2G, 3G, and 4G coverage. Connectivity with Wi-Fi is possible, but it is important to keep costs into consideration depending on the project.

  • Power consumption

When you install sensors on structures, there is not always access to a power source. Having low-power sensors that can run on batteries for months is a big plus, especially when sensors are placed in remote or difficult-to-access locations.

  • Deployment and maintenance

It is necessary to protect the integrity and preserve the landscape of heritage sites. This can make installing sensors difficult, as there are most likely restrictions on where and how they can be placed. Special attention to data privacy also has to be considered if sensors are to integrate with visitor data and actions. In the case of heritage sites in remote or hard-to-reach places, there may not be as much on-site support to address technical issues.

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How akenza can support conserving built heritage

akenza offers great features for low-power projects such as those based on LoRaWAN, one of the leading technologies in this space. The unique properties of LoRaWAN make it the ideal connectivity protocol for a variety of use cases. In addition to supporting immovable heritage cases, IoT also supports the connectivity of movable heritage. These cases can include tracking climate parameters such as temperature and humidity for artwork or archaeological objects, for example.

The akenza Device Type Library has an extensive list of LoRa devices to help you get started with your IoT project depending on your requirements. Connect devices from the library to akenza in minutes thanks to our no-code feature!