October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: CIMAD - A Framework For The Development Of Context-Aware and Multi-Channel Cultural Heritage Services

Giuseppe Raffa1, Philipp H. Mohr2, Nick Ryan2, Daniele Manzaroli1, Marina Pettinari1, Luca Roffia1, Sara Bartolini1, Lukas Sklenar2, Franca Garzotto3, Paolo Paolini3, Tullio Salmon Cinotti1

1ARCES - Università di Bologna (Italy), 2Computing Laboratory - University of Kent (UK),  3Department of Electronics and Information - Politecnico di Milano (Italy)


The CIMAD project, “Common Infrastructure/Context Influenced Mobile Acquisition and Delivery of cultural heritage data", is presented. CIMAD is a framework concerned with the development of cultural heritage “services” designed and implemented within the EU Network of Excellence EPOCH – Excellence in Processing Open Cultural Heritage. CIMAD aims to address a wide range of context-aware and multi-channel services in the cultural heritage domain, i.e. data acquisition, content delivery, monitoring, and management. The innovative aspect of CIMAD is that it helps the development team in mastering the complexity of building, customizing and integrating site specific cultural heritage services, thus making the different implementation activities more productive and cost-effective.

Keywords: context-driven customization, visitor guide, on-site data collection, interoperability, context management infrastructure, content management


Cultural Heritage (CH) is becoming a greater attraction factor for tourism worldwide and many countries are aiming to offer lower-cost, but higher-quality, content and services that can provide better visibility to their museums, sites and landscapes. A recognized problem is that visitors often do not remember what they have seen. Therefore, the aim is to provide an enhanced learning experience for visitors, based on the hypothesis that the more they retain, the greater the demand for knowledge will be. In order to overcome the issues of insufficient exposure (few visitors) and insufficient retention, CH sites need to be accessed in a much more organized way. They need to be noticed by external Cultural Tourism operators and they need to provide content and services on site not only using dedicated guides available for rent, but also on any type of physical media desired by the user, including their own smartphone or PDA. In order to exploit its potential to interest visitors, a country should face the above mentioned issues with solutions that are deeply integrated within the territory, and such an approach should involve institutions at various levels, from the governments and the large international tour operators, down to the local authorities, site managers, curators and the technology providers.

This paper contributes to the lowest links of the chain: it shows how novel technology can provide site managers with an integrated solution that supports CH management and exposure. Services need to be adaptive, as adults and children, novices and experts, disabled and able-bodied, first-time and returning visitors all arrive with different knowledge, capabilities and expectations. Interaction with the user should be optimized according to the device characteristics and their preferences and situation. Therefore, all media used to convey contents will need to be aware of the user "context", and in particular of their location. Furthermore, it is more and more important to understand the users behaviour inside the CH site in order to improve the services provided. Eventually, services should not only be addressed to visitors but the same infrastructure should be used to manage all the tasks involved in Cultural Heritage Management, from data collection, to surveillance, ending with visitor experience and site management.

The picture outlined here is expected to become a reality in the second half of the next decade, since it builds on technologies, systems and tools that are envisaged by the European 7th Framework Programme whose time-span extends to 2013. The goal of this project is to demonstrate, with a prototype based on current technologies, that a framework supporting the development of integrated and customized Multi-Channel CH Services may fit the scenario depicted above. The proposed prototype is meant to support services that range from content acquisition, i.e. tools for field survey and data acquisition, to site management, i.e. managing the application layout based on exhibits' location, visitor management, i.e. registration services, visitor flow monitoring and tracking, visitor guides, i.e. multimedia content delivery and orientation/map services.

The developed framework - called CIMAD (standing for "Common Infrastructure/Context Influenced Mobile Acquisition and Delivery of cultural heritage data") was conceived within the EU Network of Excellence EPOCH (Excellence in Processing Open Cultural Heritage). It is meant to seamlessly support heterogeneous device types with different form factors and usage models, i.e. custom, dedicated devices hired on site, versus privately owned PDAs and smart phones, and different location technologies, i.e. WiFi based versus GPS based. Even if necessarily incomplete and preliminary in many respects, CIMAD intends to anticipate a future application development scenario, supporting the integration of services applicable to many CH environments. In order to provide such services, CIMAD builds on top of two infrastructure components supported by EPOCH: a context management system called MobiComp, and a content management system built on top of the Fedora digital repository. A work in progress demonstration of CIMAD services, named "Smart Museums, Sites and Landscapes – From Visitor Guides to Collection Monitoring" was setup during the Interactive Salon held at the Stadsmuseum in Stockholm and at the University of Fine Arts in Budapest. 

Context Aware and Multi Channel Applications in Cultural Heritage

Nearly a decade ago a European Project of the 4th Framework Program proposed ArcheoGuide, a wearable augmented reality system for personalized tours in CH, based on head mounted displays (Vlahakis, 2001). Since then, many challenging mobile Cultural Heritage applications have been considered, addressing the interests of visitors, researchers and operators and CH sites have proven to be an exciting and challenging test bed for novel application models, based in particular on context-awareness. Context is defined as any information that can be used to characterise the situation of an entity (Entity: person, place, object that is considered relevant to the interaction between a user and an application). A system is context-aware if it uses context to provide relevant information and/or services to the user, where relevancy depends on the users task (Dey&Abowd, 1999).

Many context sources are considered in the literature, ranging from location and orientation to automatic detection of user profiles and preferences. In (Spasojevic, 2001) experiences from the CoolTown project by HP are described. This project is based on the design of a study of users equipped with devices gathering context data from RFID, barcode and radio beacons; it investigates how a web-based computing infrastructure can provide museum visitors with an augmented experience.

I-Guide (Hsi, 2004) is a research project that took place at the Exploratorium, a museum of science, art, and human perception. This project uses RFID to provide localization of Points-Of-Interest and content. In addition, it allows people to bookmark interesting exhibits they would like to remember. History Unwired (Epstein, 2006) is an interesting investigation of the narrative uses of mobile technology in historic cities as part of a tour.  The story is delivered over location-aware multimedia phones and PDAs, guiding tourists  and citizens through one of Venice’s more hidden neighbourhoods. Salmon Cinotti et al. (Salmon Cinotti, 2004) present the evaluation of MUSE, a mobile system aimed to  augment CH sites with multimedia contents. The system uses a custom made, sensor-augmented client device to deliver high quality contents.

Researchers have also been focusing on context-dependant data collection. This is in fact a crucial aspect of CH research, providing accurate documentation to preserve and make knowledge accessible. Ryan et al. (Ryan, 1999) show how a sensor-enhanced handheld device can be used in research field survey. It leverages inexpensive sensors, such as GPS, in conjunction with an embedded custom-made GIS to contextualize field data. During a two-year experiment it was shown that such a system can be more effective than paper-based methods to collect data on-site. Similar work involving on-site recording during an excavation is described by (Ancona, 1999).

While the above-mentioned projects, along with many others, mainly focus on only one kind of device, others have identified the benefits of multi-channel applications. According to Garzotto et al. (Garzotto, 2003), a multi-channel application delivers its content and services on heterogeneous devices, i.e. desktop PCs, notebooks, mobile phones, PDAs, Web TVs and dedicated appliances. This approach envisages the development of generic applications that dynamically adapt to the device characteristics and communication channel. For example, multi-channel applications can be used in a scenario where the same content needs to be offered to kiosks located in each exhibition room and also to sensor-enabled PDAs, adapting in real time the content to the device characteristics and to the user's context.

Garzotto et al. (Garzotto, 2003) presents a framework for the design of multi-channel applications in the cultural tourism domain. In this project four different "channels" are considered: conventional "Web", "on-site mobile", "on-site stationary" and "memories". The following design tasks are identified: information design (describing the content delivered by the application), navigation design (defining how content is structured for the purpose of navigation), interaction design (defining the user-application interaction model), and presentation design (defining how navigation structures and interaction elements are presented to the end user). Colazzo et al. (Colazzo, 2005) argue that a channel does not rely merely on a technological connotation, device characteristics and related communication infrastructure, but also on the "context of use", where context is defined as the overall spectrum of characteristics of a computer-mediated experience. In this wider vision, "the technological characteristics of a device and underlying infrastructure are still important but they do not necessarily represent the main driving force for setting the requirements that ultimately influence the design of a multi-channel experience". In addition, the paper also describes the issues and challenges that arise when a multi-channel application supports "cross-channel" workflows, which happen when a modification to a specific channel causes a modification to other channels. For example, the user at home can select some Points of Interest inside a museum and later retrieve them while using the mobile device during a real visit.

Multi-channel design and context-awareness are key issues in current research. As tools and guidelines simplifying the deployment of such systems are still lacking, in this paper such tools and guidelines developed as part of the CIMAD project are presented.

CIMAD Framework

A wide range of different CH applications has been developed in the past. Based on gained experiences and lessons learned, CIMAD is aiming to speed up and simplify the development process of such applications by providing a common framework aimed at developers and field experts with limited IT knowledge. The different CH applications today have mainly been developed from scratch as stand alone applications, not intended to be re-used in a modular fashion. However, in the field of context-awareness an increasing number of applications are being developed out of modular re-usable building blocks which are combined through a context infrastructure (Dey, 2001; Winograd, 2001; Coutaz & Rey, 2001). Based on such a context infrastructure, CIMAD aims to introduce the same modularity to the area of CH applications, allowing overlapping functionalities and context elements to be re-used. The most widely used functionalities in CH applications are:

  • Dynamic adaptation of content, for example to device characteristics, user preferences and profile.
  • Seamless data acquisition in fieldworks, for example with contextualization of notes and pictures.
  • User context detection from sensors, with a focus on position detection.
  • Context abstraction for detecting meaningful user states, for example walking or looking at a particular exhibit.

Through an extendable basis of modules for the most widely used functions, the overall goal of the common framework is enabling a wide number of developers, with different levels of experience, to efficiently develop modular context-aware multi-channel CH applications which are interoperable. The modules developed by different developers form the asset of CIMAD, speeding up the development process of new applications through re-usability of existing modules. Aiming to cater for the different levels of users ranging from archaeologists, museum curators to experienced developers is one of the biggest challenges of CIMAD. This challenge is confronted through a flexible structure, providing support and guidance at different levels. For inexperienced developers a number of high level modules are being made available which can be combined through the CIMAD application building process, enabling applications to be built based on existing modules and connected through a common infrastructure. By making an increasing number of such modules available, the number of possible applications and their level of sophistication will increase. Experienced developers on the other hand only have to comply to the guidelines set by the system architecture, in order to be able to integrate their modules with existing and future ones. This gives them the freedom to develop novel and advanced applications, generating modules and data that can be shared and reused.

One of the main applications that can be set up within CIMAD is a visitor guide. As an example, the implementation process of a CIMAD interactive multimedia guide could look like the following:

  • Cultural heritage specialists, i.e. museum curators or site experts, prepare the multimedia content and select the appropriate user interface.
  • Curators prepare a “map component” associating each exhibit to its “context”, e.g. physical location.
  • Curators identify the criteria for organizing multimedia content into “thematic” or “geographic” tours.
  • The site management team together with the developers select the desired devices and technologies for delivering the guided visits, i.e. PDAs and location technology used.

Based on the selected devices and technologies the developers construct the visitor guide.

CIMAD Architecture

In this section an implementation of a CIMAD architecture supporting the above mentioned framework is described. The main goals of re-usability and flexibility are achieved by building the architecture out of existing components already applied to and evolved out of the CH domain; they are the Fedora content management system and the MobiComp context management infrastructure. In addition, a CIMAD specific software interfacing component supporting access to MobiComp and Fedora, as well as parsing of configuration information, is provided.

In order to develop a CIMAD compliant application, the guidelines mentioned in the previous section and the standards set by the components need to be followed. Below MobiComp, Fedora and the software interfacing component are described, followed by a description of the different states an application can be in.

Context Management: MobiComp

MobiComp is a context management infrastructure tailored to the needs of Cultural Heritage. Its core element is the ContextService (Fig. 1), acting as a store for context information and enables coordination between the components of context-aware applications. The storage components behind the ContextService interface can be configured to support different scales of context-aware applications: simple stand-alone applications, multiple applications on a single device and applications spanning multiple devices. In the last case, one or more networked servers make the context elements from heterogeneous sources accessible in a uniform way.

Context elements take the form of a subject-predicate-object triple, relating an entity identifier to a named context value. Three components exist for interacting with MobiComp: trackers, listeners and aggregators. A tracker is a MobiComp component that acts as a context producer. Trackers register their availability and capabilities by sending appropriate information to the ContextService. Their purpose is to collect raw context data from sensors, such as GPS receivers, and other dynamic or static sources, including configuration files for device capabilities and user-preferences. Trackers transform their input into context elements which are then put into the tuplespace. A listener is a MobiComp component that receives notification of ContextEvents from the ContextService and performs some action based on the context element carried by the event object. They receive event notifications whenever a context element is put into or removed from the store. On receiving a notification, the listener may get the element from the store and use it as required.

An aggregator is a MobiComp component that combines the behaviour of both a tracker and a listener. Aggregators monitor events from the ContextService, rather than a sensor device, and apply a transformation before returning a new element to the tuplespace. Aggregators can combine several low-level sensor elements to produce an element at a higher level of abstraction. For example, temperature, door, window and light sensor information might be used to determine room occupancy. Other aggregators may perform simple transformation services, i.e. converting latitude and longitude coordinates from a GPS sensor to coordinates on an appropriate local or national grid. Many non-trivial context-aware applications utilise a number of complex context aggregators, e.g. the FieldMap application described in (van Leusen, 2001).

Figure 1Figure 1: The Kent MobiComp infrastructure

To ease communication between infrastructure components, context elements are represented in the form of a XML document based on ConteXtML (Ryan, 2005), extending the subject-predicate-object triples. The elements carry a production timestamp, a default validity period, and a privacy level indicating how they may be disseminated through the ContextService. The object part of a context element may be arbitrarily complex, and different trackers might produce elements with similar names but different semantics. Equally, similar information may be packaged in different forms.

Fedora Content Store And The Content Adaptation Layer

Fedora is the content repository system used by the CIMAD architecture. In addition to the content repository, Fedora provides a collection of tools and interfaces for creating, managing, and disseminating "Fedora digital objects" (FDO) stored within the repository. A FDO allows the original format of an object to be stored, along with metadata, i.e. Dublin Core. Through format adaptation components it is possible to perform a format conversion of an FDO in real-time, allowing requests from external applications for a specific format to be satisfied, e.g. HTML, PDF and JPEG. For example, a scaled-down or a greyscale version of an image can be retrieved according to the device characteristics. The requests and retrievals are performed through standardised interfaces based on REST and SOAP --- within the CIMAD architecture the "Content Adaptation Layer" (CAL) is used.

Fedora enables the multi-channel paradigm, by allowing FDOs which were produced once to be adapted at run time according to the user and device context. In Figure 2, the interaction of an application with Fedora is shown. The application publishes context on MobiComp through trackers and the CAL retrieves it through listeners. Once Fedora is aware of the context, it can provide the application with content which has been adapted based on the context.

Figure 2Figure 2: Fedora content store and the Content adaptation Layer

Software Interfacing Component

The aim of the software interfacing component is to ease the development of context-aware applications and to enforce a number of guidelines. Through a single configuration description, possibly made public through MobiComp, the required Fedora and MobiComp components are instantiated with the correct parameters, allowing them to start the desired application. In addition, context information of the user and used device are associated with the application, taking away the burden of manually establishing the association between the different MobiComp elements. The configuration description, the user's context, as well as the device's context are formatted according to a CIMAD prepared XML-schema. Third party components, developed within the CIMAD community, can be made available through a central repository for future reutilization.

CIMAD Application States

Four different application states have been defined: design, registration, customization and run time. A basic description of tasks performed at each state is described below.

Design time:

  • The CAL layer of Fedora is used to store and format content in the form of XML files.
  • The MobiComp components - required to provide, aggregate or utilise the context elements needed by the applications - are selected.
  • The CIMAD application description, including the required MobiComp components is published on MobiComp.
  • Devices able to run the desired application are registered on MobiComp.

Registration time:

  • Basic information about the user and, if applicable, about their own devices are entered into the registration service provided by CIMAD.
  • Users are associated to the device selected to run the desired application, by registering them on MobiComp through the registration service.

Customization time:

  • The user is prompted with a selection menu, showing the recommended  CIMAD applications able to run on the device and suitable to the user's profile and preferences.
  • After choosing an application, all required MobiComp and Fedora components are seamlessly instantiated, resulting in the startup of the application without requiring any other action by the user.

Run time:

  • The application adapts its interface and the content provided to user's and device's context.
  • CAL will format the content according to the actual device type and characteristics by means of a XSLT engine developed within CIMAD. 
  • The interaction between CAL and the client application is mediated by MobiComp.

Figure 3Figure 3: CIMAD Application Building process

Example Implementations

The CIMAD tools and guidelines have been used to develop a number of CH applications, in particular visitor guides and museum management tools.

One of the guides, realised on a PDA and based on IR beacon location, displays information about the exhibit the visitor is standing next to. The MobiComp components used are an IR beacon tracker and an URL display listener, in addition to an aggregator able to convert the IR beacon stream to a sequence of URLs, forming the "virtual path" of the visitor through the museum.

Another guide is based on computer vision components developed by colleagues at ETH, Zurich. This is a Museum Guide (Ryan, 2006) implemented on a Tablet PC using a conventional USB webcam to acquire images and to present users with a viewfinder window. When a user wants to get information about an exhibit, the information button on the tablet needs to be pressed when the exhibit is within the viewfinder window. If the exhibit is recognised, the corresponding information is displayed. The MobiComp components used are the camera Tracker, the Image recognition aggregator and the URL display listener.

A guide implemented on standard mobile phones, with a built in camera and a GPRS connection, is a light weight MobiComp client installed on the phone via a Bluetooth Kiosk. The visitors can take pictures of semacodes (Semacode) next to exhibits they are interested in and the corresponding information will be displayed on the screen of the mobile phone. The MobiComp components used are the image tracker, the semacode recognition aggregator and the URL display listener.

A visitor application for the archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria is implemented on a standard PDA. The application is based on a CIMAD map component that listens to "location change" events and reacts updating the visual map of the site (Fig. 4) and presenting a location-dependant interface to the user once a Point-Of-Interest is reached (Fig. 5). The MobiComp components are a GPS tracker and a location listener. Content is adapted to the requirements of the PDAs through Fedora and the CAL.

Figure 4Figure 4: Palmyra Visitor Guide: CIMAD Map Component

Figure 5Figure 5: Palmyra Visitor Guide: Content Presentation


This paper described CIMAD, a framework aiming to bring increased efficiency and productivity to the developers of interoperable context-aware Cultural Heritage applications. The main building blocks of CIMAD are MobiComp, a context management  infrastructure, Fedora, a content store, the Content Adaptation Layer, and the software interfacing services. MobiComp links the individual application components together through standardized interfaces and makes context a shared resource, which enables the construction of context-aware Cultural Heritage applications. The construction of multi-channel applications is made possible through the Fedora and the CIMAD specific Content Adaptation Layer, both of them interoperable  with MobiComp. Software interfacing components provide developers high level application construction support, while being flexible enough to give experts freedom to implement sophisticated applications.

Several example implementations are being developed and deployed in experimental CH scenarios; these experiences have given the feeling that a common framework such as CIMAD could leverage on incoming technologies and could be beneficial to Cultural Heritage,  which in turn would be fruitful for Tourism as a whole.


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Cite as:

Raffa, G., et al, CIMAD - A Framework For The Development Of Context-Aware and Multi-Channel Cultural Heritage Services, in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/raffa/raffa.html