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RFID Watches Over the Tower of London and Its Artwork

Senceive's Wi-Fi sensors enable the castle's caretaker, Historic Royal Palaces, to monitor the conditions around the medieval walls, as well as a fragile painting mounted on one wall, to ensure historic preservation.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 06, 2011After completing a two-year project involving the use of an active RFID mesh network to track conditions that could degrade its stone walls and artwork, the Tower of London continues to utilize the technology to track the environmental cycles of ambient and surface temperatures, as well as humidity, at two towers. This information could then be compared against the conditions of the tower walls and a painting located within the stone structure. The system, known as FlatMesh and provided by Senceive, was put into place in 2009 as part of a research project that the fortress' caretaker initiated, seeking wireless solutions for environmental monitoring in areas in which thick walls can obstruct transmissions.

The Tower of London, comprising several buildings, towers, museums and historic collections in central London, is one of five historic sites managed by Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity. Much of the fortress, like many castles in the United Kingdom, was built using Reigate sandstone, a building material commonly used during the medieval period. The stone is highly absorbent, and can thus pull in moisture from the air. If the temperature fluctuates, that moisture can freeze or expand, causing damage from within the structure. For that reason, much of the Reigate stone in British castles has been replaced over the years; however, the upper chamber of the Tower of London's Wakefield Tower still contains its original Reigate stone walls—as much as 1 meter (3.3 feet) in thickness—and Historic Royal Palaces aims to preserve it. To do so, the group must monitor the conditions around the walls, says Constantina Vlachou, Historic Royal Palaces' senior conservation scientist.

The Tower of London uses an active RFID mesh network known as FlatMesh to track conditions that could degrade its stone walls and artwork.
To respond to changing conditions, the organization can utilize dehumidifiers, heaters or coolers, adjusted according to the needs of the stone or artwork.

In addition to managing the Tower of London, Historic Royal Palaces also oversees Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. All five sites employ wireless sensors, provided by a variety of companies, and installed in areas of concern that transmit data to Wi-Fi access points, thereby allowing a real-time view into the sites' conditions. The Tower of London is unique, however, due to the 1-meter thickness of many of its walls. Therefore, Historic Royal Palaces reached out to Senceive, which provides a wireless mesh-network system used for rail, construction and architectural monitoring. A large percentage of the company's work is focused on railways, says Simon Maddison, Senceive's chief operating officer, but the firm also provides what it calls Heritage Intelligence—a system designed for monitoring environments within castles and other historic landmarks.

"It's a rather specialized market," Maddison explains, "but the principles of monitoring [all] structures and architecture are relatively similar."

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