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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
Two years ago, the Tower of London installed a total of 20 Senceive sensor nodes compliant with the 802.15.4 (Wi-Fi) standard, four of which acted as repeaters to cover the 70 meters (230 feet) of open space between Wakefield Tower and Byward Tower. The other 16 nodes, divided between the two towers, were placed on windowsills and other level spaces out of the reach of visiting tourists, in order to track both ambient and surface temperatures, as well as humidity, within the two spaces. Of greatest concern in Byward Tower is not the walls, Vlachou says, but rather the conditions around a particular painting on one wall, which dates back to the 1390s and depicts the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. "This is a very important painting for us," she states. In this case, Historic Royal Palaces is focused on tracking the light conditions, temperature and humidity within the room, to protect the painting's quality. The artwork itself is off-limits to visitors, due to its fragility.

The nodes in the Byward Tower come equipped with sensors to detect light, temperature and humidity, all of which store sensory data in real time, and then transmit that information, along with their own unique ID numbers. Other nodes within the vicinity—up to 80 meters (262 feet) away in an open environment—capture those 2.4 GHz transmissions and forward them along to other nodes, thereby creating a mesh network. A solar-powered gateway device then captures data from all of the nodes, and transmits that information to Senceive's Internet-based server via a GPRS signal.


Simon Maddison, Senceive's chief operating officer
Historical Royal Palaces' staff can log onto the site to view a map of the fortress, as well as sensor data specific to the areas in which the nodes were placed, and can also create analyses, such as trends regarding environmental conditions in each area throughout a given day, month or year. In fact, Vlachou says, the data is still being accumulated and analyzed for a full understanding of such trends, as well as the effects those conditions have on the stone walls and the painting. All 20 nodes installed for the two-year project currently remain in use, she notes, and continue to acquire sensor data.

Senceive also installed sensor nodes at the Tower of London's archives building, which stores 20,000 drawings and photographs of architectural sketches of the five palaces. Here, the items are stored in an underground vault; however, the wireless transmission function was not enabled, since the system could not transmit data through the vault walls. Instead, the sensors functioned as data loggers, storing light, temperature and humidity levels. Because the air was determined to be at a good condition for preserving documents, the sensors were removed in early 2011, after one month of use.

In the future, Vlachou says, Historical Royal Palaces may opt to install the system to track conditions around a tapestry location on exhibit at Hampton Court. However, she notes, no specific plans have yet been determined.

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