IBM unveils 'Eternal Egypt'

IBM Middle East has unveiled its new US$2.5 million 'Eternal Egypt' project, a three-year joint effort between IBM and the government of Egypt. The cutting-edge project aims to bring to the world, Egypt's museums and history to anyone with a hand-held, 3G phone or access to the internet.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  March 1, 2004

IBM Middle East has unveiled its new 'Eternal Egypt' project, a three-year US$2.5 million project for the public. The joint effort between IBM and Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology aims to bring to the world, Egypt's museums and history to anyone with a hand-held, 3G phone or access to the internet. “Eternal Egypt marries technology and culture. We have long realized the importance of information technology in preserving such a great heritage. Egypt owes it to the world to make sure it is preserved,” says Ahmed Nazif, Egypt's Minister of Communications. The centerpiece of the Eternal Egypt project is the website (www.eternalegypt.org) which is dubbed ‘a museum without walls,’ with information in English, Arabic and French covering more than 5,000 years and four eras: the Pharaonic, Greco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic. The Egyptian government hopes the site will lure more tourists — a major source of revenue. “I always visit places because I see a photo or read a book and then am tempted to go to the place.This venture will be one of the most important websites for people's cultural heritage in the world,” says Fathi Saleh, an organiser of Eternal Egypt and director of the Center for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage (CultNat). Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, CultNat and IBM which compiled the information for the site, includes virtual tours, multimedia content, 3D images and thousands of pages of information on Egypt. For the project, IBM developed new 3D imaging technology, which can now be applied to the problem of digitising very large priceless artistic masterpieces or works of architecture. The entire Eternal Egypt project is powered by a content management system (CMS), a web-based application built atop IBM Websphere Application Server and DB2 running on Linux. It features a full multilingual text input support and automatically transcodes content, based on the end-user device which can range from a PC to a handheld PDA-mobile phone or a portable network device. Eternal Egypt’s CMS uses IBM's Text-to-Speech technology, which generates spoken audio versions of any textual content in English, French, or Arabic and eliminates the need for recording voice. The high-resolution 3D images were created using IBM Research’s patented Pro/3000 Digital Imaging System, for scanning transparencies, reflective art, or three-dimensional objects. The images feature IBM's patented digital invisible watermark technology to protect usage rights. For this project, more than 2000 images have been scanned and retouched by the CultNat and IBM teams. For locations around Egypt images are presented as high-resolution panoramas and also as panoramas captured in real time by five robotic cameras positioned on the Giza Plateau, in Islamic Cairo, at Karnak Temple in Luxor, and at the site of the ancient Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria. To show places as they once were or to illustrate the evolution of locations over time, elaborate 3D virtual environments have been created. Prior to this project, in December 2002, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, IBM and CultNat launched a portable information service for museum visitors called the Digital Guide. The handheld computing application is expected to be widely used in museums and goes beyond traditional audio-only devices to offer in-depth text, images, and animations to contextualise the artifacts encountered as visitors move through a museum.

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