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COVID-19 has changed the way that the world consumes culture. A look into the tech that makes it possible

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(By Robert Yang) 

COVID-19 has catalyzed a fundamental shift in the way we do business – the way people work, the way organizations run, and interestingly, the business of art and culture. Over a third of the global population has participated in some kind of lockdown measure to fight the spread of the pandemic, and many borders remain closed. In response, virtual travel and experiences have grown in popularity as people seek more activities and experiences they can perform safely from home.

Online searches for Google Arts and Culture alone, an app that connects 2,000 cultural institutions in 80 countries around the world, quadrupled in March during COVID-19. Our connected world is bridging the gaps between people but also between art and technology, showing how technology can be a force for art, culture and preservation.

The cloud takes the stage

Cloud usage expansion proved crucial in sudden large-scale work from home setups and is also finding a place within the arts, as industries turn to tech solutions to boost continuity during COVID-19. Though much of the content that has shifted online is available for free, cultural industries seek to stay relevant throughout the crisis and to engage people at home.

This works akin to the way we use streaming services to watch Netflix or game online. From anywhere in the world with a supportive internet connection, we can livestream operas, theatre, and play performances for free now, often from better views than the best seats in the house. Cloud data and servers make this possible – the same support it offers to Skype and Dropbox is also applicable to powering audience-heavy livestreams of theatre and concerts.

While this doesn’t change the fact that performance industries have taken a hit during COVID-19, but the push of millions for accessible, immersive content is catalyzing innovation.

How data advancements in the future help us preserve the past

Creating and recreating these live experiences hinges on the accumulation of a lot of data to enable as tangible an experience as possible. Nonprofit organization CyArk has added over 100 new 3D models from sites around the world, for a traffic jump of 500% as teachers and students access the models online around the world.

Three-dimensional imaging of monuments like Gateway of India and Hue Monuments in Vietnam helps preserve these experiences in more captivating ways, while providing a real-world solution for issues like monument disintegration over time. CyArk uses photo-real 3D models created through data accumulation methods like terrestrial laser scanning (LiDAR), an active imaging method that can be conducted from the ground. Data storage solutions like Seagate’s Nytro help store these massive amounts of preservation data in real time, for the most accurate viewing experience.

Other companies working within the AR space to preserve culture include Google Arts and Culture’s Pocket Gallery, which enables an AR experience of a collection of art from 33 galleries and museums across four continents. BBC’s Civilisations AR app enables viewers to experience artefacts from around the world as scanned 3D models. These models can help us provide real-world solutions for issues like monument disintegration over time.

Virtual reality’s place in COVID-19 frontline training points to its potential in knowledge expansion

COVID-19 feedback has indicated that successful virtualization is not as simple as putting a high-resolution picture of the Mona Lisa online. For more static cultural experiences – visual art, monuments – an early challenge brought up during COVID-19 is the issue of engagement. Real-time tech can offer support in this area as well.

However, virtual reality will likely need to become a goal for cultural institutions looking to collect visitors. The cloud might not be enough to provide the best experience. That’s where edge computing comes in. Faster than the cloud, it can take this data and create more accurate virtual reality settings.

Virtual experiential learning has a solid place in education. As COVID-19 puts serious manpower pressure on the medical industry, we’ve seen a move of people across sectors – and even coming out of retirement – to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. These people also require manpower during the transition – to help them upskill and brush up on skills that are either cross-discipline or need review after years away from emergency medicine.

Virtual reality steps in here, powered by large amounts of patient data, to create virtual training experiences for these doctors. Immersive learning is essential for high-pressure, high-stakes fields, but manpower or location constraints may not allow these. Programs where training personnel like doctors can train under these circumstances are helpful. They can test out making bolder decisions in a virtual environment with lighter consequences for mistakes. This is also beneficial for applications in other situations where engagement in learning is enriching, like home-based learning.

As COVID-19 puts our systems to the test, it has also highlighted the ways our systems and data can be put to use for good – and areas of improvement – for a window forward into how we can preserve art and culture for future generations.

The author is the Regional Vice President for Asia-Pacific Sales, Seagate Technology)


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