If a group of architecture students decided to look on the Internet for links to sites with information on, say, Gothic buildings, they would find plenty to choose from. But they could be as old as some of the buildings themselves by the time they had waded through the 139,000 'hits' revealed by a conventional search engine.
"The great attraction of the EUREKA programme is that it provides an easy, convenient and fast entry into international collaborations - there is less bureaucracy than with other organisations."
Dr Eveline Riedling
So the EUREKA CULT-BASE project was created to develop new technology for accessing relevant and personalized information from the multimedia content of public databases. The system will be designed not only to recognize and adapt to a user's information demands but provide data in a format suitable to the retrieval device - detailed content for those with broadband access and summary versions for others using cell phones and other hand held devices.
Working with German and Italian colleagues, a team lead by Dr Eveline Riedling at the Technical University of Vienna is developing a prototype multimedia database using cultural heritage material provided by museums and galleries in Austria and Sardinia. "The aim is to program a search engine which will deliver both pictures and links to text. The technical challenge is to combine the information from databases from the institutions that allow us to freely use their content with material from other databases to which we have more limited access."
Riedling's group in the university's Institute of Industrial Electronics and Materials Science is developing the multimedia database while staff of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Darmstadt are creating the user interface. Meanwhile the Italian company Space srl is responsible for producing innovative multimedia content and for commercialising the results.
"We have a prototype database and administration tools to access materials from co-operating institutions. Work is still to be done on the harder task of accessing information from institutions that aren't co-operating with the project.
We still have to develop more tools and test the prototypes but aim to have a ready to sell database within the next year."
This new way of searching will save time and be more convenient to use by logically structuring the enquiries and eliminating most of the non-specific material thrown up by conventional web searches.
The consortium plan to market the results to a small group of academic and cultural centres across Europe. This should help the further development of the technology. But eventually the partners see the technology as having a much wider market as it develops into the first cultural information network in Europe.