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NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art Adopts RFID

The Met's Cloisters branch is using a wireless sensor system from IBM Research to manage data regarding temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions around artwork.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 26, 2011The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), in New York City, is employing battery-powered RFID sensor tags to gather and analyze data regarding the physical environment in which its artwork is displayed. Its goal is to eventually use that information to monitor changing conditions, and to subsequently adjust climate controls within its facility. Initially, the system is only collecting data about conditions around the art.

IBM Research's wireless sensor platform was installed at The Cloisters—a branch of the Met that displays medieval European art and architecture—under the leadership of Paolo Dionisi Vici, an associate research scientist in the museum's department of scientific research.

At The Cloisters, Paolo Dionisi Vici (left) speaks with IBM Research's Hendrik Hamann, who is holding a wireless mote in his hand.

The Cloisters is providing a good test site for the system prior to a museum-wide installation, since its many rooms pose a variety of climate-control challenges. The site includes approximately 3,000 works of art dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries, including paintings, polychrome wood sculptures and tapestries, such as a famed 15th-century unicorn hunt tapestry. The Cloisters also has high ceilings, as well as an outdoor settings and gardens, with doors that frequently open and close.

The artworks are extremely sensitive to environmental changes, the museum explains, and the variety of materials means that the Met must diligently manage the environment for the most sensitive art pieces—in some cases erring on the side of caution, by keeping temperatures and humidity controlled, thereby requiring a greater degree of heating or air conditioning than would typically be required within other public facilities. Some of that heating or cooling may be excessive, but the museum requires additional data before it can determine if that is the case.

Dionisi Vici has experience with automatically tracking climatic conditions around artwork. In fact, he designed a Bluetooth-based device attached to the back of the Mona Lisa, at the Louvre, in Paris, to measure and wirelessly transmit the temperature and humidity levels to which the famous painting was exposed.

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