Why do we like some landscapes more than others?

Why do we like some landscapes more than others?

Each landscape makes specific, different, unique feelings. When contemplating a meadow dotted with trees, we do feel something totally different from what we feel looking at a desert area. This also happens when facing cultural landscapes1. A Romanesque church does not make the same sensations as the ones perceived when contemplating cave paintings.

Numerous investigations conclude that there is a significant correlation between our personality and the landscape preferences. Other research argues that the human-landscape relationship has an “innate” basis, dating back to the survival needs of primitive humans, whose environment demanded perceptual abilities and predispositions, which today- at a psichological level- are still functioning. This explains why we still prefer open and slightly flat landscapes (watching predators), in addition to vegetation and good access to water (covering vital needs).

Then, it could be argued that the affective system brought into ply in landscape appraisal is a consequence of wider individual strategies concerning the personality, innate factors and the individual´s attitude towards the world (enhanced by their experiences and the society where they live).

In other words, the landscape assessment depends on factors that are totally subjective and, therefore, difficult to quantify. So what should I do if I want to measure “what we like” about a certain type of cultural landscape?

This is where the so-called “Affective Computing” pops up, which consists on the study and development of systems and devices able to recognize, interpret and process human emotions.

CARTIF, within SRURAL project, is applying this set of techniques to obtain the “affection value” of any cultural landscape (“measuring how much you like the landscape”). To this ends, a cognitive system is being developed that on the one hand uses verbal language and facial expressions as input, and on the other hand, certain physiological signals (heart rate, sweating and body temperature while you are immersed into the landscape via virtual reality glasses)

All these inputs are introduced into a neural network previously trained by means of Deep Learning2 techniques to obtain the landscape´s “affection value” as useful output.

The “affection value” is very useful for decision-making by territory managers, for instance, to guide tourism promotion campaigns towards high affection values areas, but with no significant visits number. Also for profiling and segmenting tourists according to the type o landscapes they are most likely to visit, and thus to carry out targeted and more effective promotional campaigns.

It can also be used to know when it is necessary to take corrective measures or at least carry out a stud of causes in case of a tourist interesting area with a large number of visitors has a relative low affection value.

Since the decision-makers need few but very relevant information, as much graphical as possible, all kind of useful data is displayed in the most user-friendly for them y means of geolocated interfaces. Therefore, the system under development incorporates specific modules to show the information already processed, just ready to draw conclusions, which will quickly lead them to objective data-driven decisions upon Data Mining and Big Data techniques.

1 Is the landscape combining natural and cultural heritage. It has been modified by humans to be adapted to people´s needs according to their beliefs, economic activity, and the shaped society. The most obvious examples of these modifications are traditional crops, buildings and infrastructures.

2 https://blog.cartif.es/en/deep-learning-computer-vision/

Further information about the project is on its website: https://srural.es/

Innovating in construction: collaborative environments

Innovating in construction: collaborative environments

It is a well-know fact how our environment has changed dramatically in the last years. This enviroment is in constant transformation, with uncertainities and aspects that are difficult to predict.

Construction sector in particular, hasn´t been oblivious to such changes. In Europe has a huge weight on the economies recovery, having a positive evolution that is expected to mantain. Nowadays we can talk about the confluence of two currents that affect to those growth. On one side, one that favours it: the stimules that receives with Next Generation funds. But on the other side, raw materials shoratge and the increase of prices to which is added the recurring problem of manpower shortage act against them. As well as was indicated in its projections at the end of 2021 the Euroconstruct report, construction sector at a european level will preserve inertia to grow in 2022 (3.65%), although for 2023 (1.5%) and 2024 (1.2%) it is considered a moderate advance.

In case of Spain, also pointed out a 8% growth in 2022. However, uncertainity has increased due to aspects like the inflation evolution and the deployment of the Recovery Plan defrayed by the aforementioned european funds. Although this funds offered a great potential for a growth of the activity, mainly in the rehabilitation case, it is also true that uncertainity wouldn´t allow reaching all the development that could be expected.

In addition to the problems that is facing the economy, the sector lso has to face huge challenges at a european level such as sustainability and digitalization. Traditionally the construction sector has not lent the same atention to innovation than other industrial sectors. Putting the focus on these aspects will allow a change on this industry, being both undoubtedly, the tracks of innovation of the sector.

It is necessary to think in a new approach, being the innovation an opportunity to create value. A way to accelerate this innovation process and improve the quality of its results pass through the collaborative research.

From the UE it is work is being actively pursued to strengthen the framework that support the focus of open innovation. The open innovation paradgime consist on “an innovation model based in a network and collaboration, in the co-creation betweent all the society actors crossing the organizational limits more over the normal collaboration schemes. This model allows reaching a great competitive advantage, as well as innovation benefits for a huge number of collaborators“.

A great example of open innovation collaborative european project is Metabuilding Labs project in which CARTIF participates and among whose objectives is the construction of an innovation system for the sector. This will include a national innovation system organized as “metaclusters” in the form of National Construction Technology Platforms. Some of those systems already exist and in other cases it will be necessary develop it as part of the project.

With its development, an open type of innovation is sought, gathering all the interesed parts of the value chain of the environment constructed in a new innovation ecosystem. All that through a sectorial digital platform and of a supranational grid of the facilities, capacities and OITB test services (Open Innovation Test Beds). This network covers 12 countries with a unique entry, the platform.

The objective of the open innovation test benches is making the new technological advances available for companies and users. This allows to advance in the introduction of compounds and elements in the market, going from the valorisation on laboratories to the prototype on indsutrial environments.

The development of the platform will allow a fluid communication and a dynamic mapping of the actives and environment resources both at a national an regional level. Innovative SMEs, will thus have access to resources, looking for involving it and giving supprot. This will achieve a critical mass taking advantage the consortium networks that allows them to develop and test new building envelope innovative solutions.

Inside these test facilities that will be offered, we can find the O3BET Building Enveloped Testbeds, The consortium will design, develop and give eight innovative test facilities for enveloped building elements. These facilites at a 1:1 scale, in real, affordable, industrialised conditions with all the sensors and needed equipment bridge the gap between laboratories tests and huge scale buildings, maintaning under control all the need interior conditions and letting that the outside conditions change in a real environment.

O3BET involved Open Source, Open Data and Open Access.

  • Open Source. It will be design such as an open BIM model available to all the actors, that take advantage of the maximum capacities of this methodology so partners and third arties easily replicated in all Europe.
  • Open Data. For any test, monitored data will be consolidated and storage in a open data platform, giving access to all and as such to reinforce open science and innovation.
  • Open Access. At OITB context, also applicable for O3BET. Any interested user can access to the facilities, capacities and services of the test benches, independently if it is partner of the consortium or not. Metabuilding Labs platform members will have more favourable conditions. Will be sought the way to facilitate SMEs participation considering its size and capacity to find their most suitable test facilities.

With the development of this type of collaboration a component to the traditional innovation focus is added, boosting a nearest participation to the productive and product and technology development phase and favouring the value creation. Obviously, current difficulties for new business growth (particularly in construction) will not be solved by this type of initiative alone, but they can help to consolidate its progressive and necessary transformation.

“Innovation is a risky activity whose main risk is not practising it”

Monitoring the Effect of Cultural and Natural Heritage as a Driver for Rural Regeneration

Monitoring the Effect of Cultural and Natural Heritage as a Driver for Rural Regeneration

Cultural and Natural Heritage (CNH) are irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration, according to the UNESCO definition. Europe´s rural areas represent outstanding examples of cultural, either tangible or intangible, and antural heritage that need, not only to be safeguarded, but also promoted as an engine for competitiveness, growth and sustainable and inclusive deveopment1. According to the PAHIS 2020 Plan2 , there has been a deepening of the so-called Cultural Heritage Economy in recent years, in accordance with current criteria which establish that cultural heritage assets should no longer be perceived as a burden but as a resource capable of generating development and social cohesion. This post gives a brief summary into the study of computer technologies applied to modelling and monitoring how the CNH can support the sustainable development of rural areas.

The EU communication “A Long-Term Vision for the EU´s Rural Areas”3 mentions the EU Rural Observatory, whose main objective is to further improve data collection and analysis on rural areas, but first results are expected by the end of 2022. This observatory is intended to increase the quantity and quality of available data as this is essential to understand the rural conditions to act on them properly.

Photo author: Santiago Sierra Durán (Salento, Colombia)

Rural areas are facing challenges such as ageing and depopulation. Heritage based regeneration plans can contribute to the sustainable development of these rural areas. This is a complex task, however, where a trade-off among the different regeneration plans and the limited available resources should be found and where computational methods can be useful to predict the best strategy.

One common approach when facing situations like this is through the analysis of some selected best practices or success stories (aka Role Models), and how innovation activities and cross-cutting themes successfully interacted in these Role Models. Then, these lessons learnt are adapted and replicated in other rural areas )aka replicators) for supporting the creation and implementation of heritage-led regeneration strategies.

In order to get quantifiable evidences, compara and appraise the effectiveness, impact and validity of the heritage-led regeneration actions, it is necessary to establish a robust monitoring systems based on a set of selected corss-thematic and multiscale Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and evaluation procedures that ensure the production of a solid and reliable impact assessment of the strategies. Parameters obtained from role models and replicators baseline have been used to define an initial set of KPIs, which has been used for the first appraisal of the replicators baseline.

The methodology developed here allows to analysing an initial set of indicators as large as needed and, via several objective criteria, reduce the set of KPIs to a number that can be easily handled. But probably, the resulting set of KPIs will be diverse and not so easy to combine or compare, so group decision making techniques are useful to reach a trade-off among the experts´ opinions about how to combine the data from the indicators and get meaningful KPIs.

The impact of the strategies is assessed through KPIs in terms of Cultural and Natural Heritage according to the Communities Capital Framework (CCF). The KPIs intially considered for each replicator are re-tailored and further analysed by means of System Dynamics (SD), a suitable modelling technique for dealing with the nonlinear behaviour of complex systems over time suing sotcks, flows, internal feedback loops and time delays.

The RURITAGE project has identified 6 Systemic Innovation Areas (pilgrimage; sustainable local food production; migration; art & festivals; resilience; and integrated landscape management) which, integrated with cross-cutting themes, show case heritage potential as an engine for economic, social and environmental development of rural areas. CARTIF is in charge of developing the monitoring platfomr for assessing the impact of the action plans to regenerate the rural areas. Several dashboards have been designed focusing on KPIs values and their evolution4. RURITAGE has developed and set up a monitoring scheme to assess the performance pf the deployed regeneration action plans in six replicators. Performance monitoring is still ongoing and will last 2.5 years within project life.

1  RURITAGE, Rural regeneration through systemic heritage-led strategies, 2018. (https://www.ruritage.eu) Horizon 2020, Grant agreement No 776465.

2 Consejería de Cultura y Turismo, Plan PAHIS 2020 del Patrimonio Cultural de Castilla y León, Junta de Castilla y León. Consejería de Cultura y Turismo, 2015.

3 European Commission, 2021. A long-term Vision for the EU’s Rural Areas – Towards stronger, connected, resilient and prosperous rural areas by 2040. Technical Report. (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM:2021:345:FIN)

4 https://ruritage-ecosystem.eu/kpi

New strategies (and technologies) against huge forest fires

New strategies (and technologies) against huge forest fires

Although sometimes we forget it, forests provides huge benefits to the planet in general and to the human being in particular. They help us to mitigate climate change effects acting as carbon sinks and eliminating huge quantities of carbon dioxide of the atmosphere. The forests nourish the ground and serve as a natural barrier against ground erosion, ground movements, floods, avalanches and strong winds. Forests host more than three quarters of global terrestrial biodiversity, and represents a source of food, medicines and fuel for more than one thousand million people.

But forests are seriously threatened by deforestation, climate change and fires. The advance of the agricultural frontier and the unsustainable logging causes 13 million hectares of forest to be lost every year. Climate change is allowing that plants and invasive insects species have advantages over the native species increasing their negative effects. It also exists a direct relationship between fires, deforestation and pandemics: the destruction of forests, specially the tropical ones such as the Amazonia, Indonesia or the Congo, makes possible that human beings get in touch with wildlife populations carriers of pathogens.

incendios forestales

With regard to forest fires it has been noted that fires are becoming less frequent, but more destructive. Some of them, the most terrible, are the called “sixth generation fires“, and are ravaging the forests of the planet. This type of fires can´ t be fight and also they have the capacity to modificate the metheorology of the place where the fire is located. Against this type of fires it only works a defensive strategy, trying to direct it to non-populated areas and hope that the rain will help to control it. Not even areas that have hardly had any fires are not spared from this tragedy: 5.5 millions of hectares have burned in the Artic Circle in recent years. The Artic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and, as a result, high intensity fires are starting.

It is clear that is fundamental to prevent fires and for that reason it is necessary to consider strategies that allows reducing forests vulnerability. Having a look at our nearer context, the European Union forest strategy promotes the forest sustainable and respectful management with climate and biodiversity, intensifying the surveillance of forests and giving a more specific support to silvicultures. Becomes evident that is needed a better forestry management with emphasis in the protection and sustainable regeneration. However, we have a steady decline in forest mass as the “reforestation” process cannot compete with the deforestation rate in Europe. Furthermore, in Europe, data shows a large increase in forestry exploitation in recent years, which reducing the continent´ s CO2 absorption capacity and possibly indicating wider problems with the EU´ s attempts to fight agains climate crisis. Another paradox regarding forests within the EU is that a large part of them are privately owned by timber companies. As a result, the regular logging of these forests, coupled with the private nature of their ownership, makes public awareness and greenning even more difficult to achieve. Biomass loss from 2016 to 2018, in compared to the period from 2011-2015, has increased by 69%, according to the satellite data.

Spain, as it occurs to all the countries of the mediterranean area, is specially vulnerable to fires, given the scenario of drought and desertification, accelerated by the climate change. In Spain we have a large experience putting out forest fires: we collaborate in a international level and we achieve the extinction of 65% of fires in their outbreak phase (less than 1 hectare), although this sometimes produces the effect called “the extinction paradox” (which means that we lose the opportunity for small fires to clear undergrowth and thus encourage large and dangerous accumulations of fuel. In Spain 1,000 million euros per year are destiny to fire extinction, however, only 300 millions euros to their prevention.

The extinction is necessary and positive but isn´ t enough, it is necessary to invest in other measures (prevention, detection and recovering) that allows facing forest fires from a more wide and complete perspective. In this sense is very important to take advantage of new tools that offers recent technologies and scientific advances.

incendios forestales

For example, the use of images obtained with drones and satellites and sensor grids joint with artificial intelligence techniques allows to detect fires faster and more accurately and is already underway several research projects in various countries: Bulgary, Greece, Portugal, Lebanon, Korea and much others. Even there are challenges planned for the European Spacial Agency for using satellite images and artificial intelligence in the detection of fires and other similar challenges of the NASA, H20.ai and Cellnex. Another interesting initiative is ALERTWildfire, a consortium of several northamerican universities that provides cameras and tools against fires to discover, locate and monitor forest fires. There are also commercial systems to detect forest fires, such as this one of Chile, that use Artificial Intelligence and several types of sensors or this one of Portugal.

Already in Spain, the Ecology Transition and Agriculture ministries have developed Arbaria project able to “predict” with a considerable hit rate where fires will break out.

Looking for a global approach in the prevention and management of fires the european project DRYADS have been launched, in which participates CARTIF. This project has as an objective the development of a fire management holistic platform based in the optimization and reuse of last generation socio-technologic resources. These techniques will be applied in the three main phases of forest fires:

  • In the prevention phase, DRYADS proposes the use of a real-time risk assessment tool that can receive multiple ranking inputs and work with a new risk factor indicator driven by a neuronal network. To create a community model adapted to fire, in parallel to the previous activity, DRYADS will use construction materials activated by alcali that integrates post-fires wood ashes for buildings and infrastructures resistant to fire. DRYADS will also use a variety of technological solutions, such as the Copernicus european satellite infrastructure and swarms of drone for a precise forest supervision.
  • In the detection phase, DRYADS proposes several technology tools that can be adapted to much of the needs of the project: use of virtual reality for the training, portable devices for the emergency services protection team, vehicles without driver -UAV (drones), UAG and aircrafts- to improve the capacity of temporary and spacial analysis, as well as to increase the coverage of the inspected area.
  • Finally, DRYADS will construct a new forestry restoration initiative based in modern techniques, such as agrosilviculture, drones for spreading seeds, IoT sensors that can adapt the seeding process in function of the ground needs and at the same time with the help of the AI to determine the risk factors after the fire.

The results of DRYADS project will be demonstrated and validated in real conditions in several forestry spaces of Spain, Norway, Italy, Rumany, Austria, Germany, Greece and Taiwan.

To sum up and as a conclusion, to fight against the forestry fires we have not only to focus in their extinction but also in a good sustainable management of the forest based in the prevention and introduction of modern techniques is essential to reinforce their resilience, the utilisation of the resources and their recovery capacity. This will lead to new opportunities for the rural environment, the biodiversity conservation and the fight against climate change. Let us hope that for once a time trees let us see the forest and we could avoid their destruction.

Improvement of the road maintenance through Artificial Intelligence

Improvement of the road maintenance through Artificial Intelligence

We all know that roads are necessary but normally we only remember them when they found them in bad conditions. We take it for granted that must always be available and in perfect condition, but this requries a great effort in terms of personnel, time and material resources. The spanish roads give support to the 86% of the inland transport of goods and to the 88% of the passenger transport. This high load of vehicles using the roads, together with the weather and environmental conditions cause a high level of wear with the consequent loss of properties of the road.

This cause to the users a series of severe inconveniences: the primary one is that it means a reduction in road safety, but also leads to a decrease in travel comfort, an increase of the fuel consumption of vehicles with the consequent increase of polluting gases emissions.

It is evident that the rehabilitation, preservation and maintenance of the road infrastructures is of fundamental importance, although we all know how annoying is founding roadworks. In Europe, in particular in Spain we have a good road grid, quite dense and good conected but certainly aged because of the decrease of the expenditure in preservation of the last years. It should be remembered that it requires a high level of investment in road maintenance; it is estimated, according to ACEX, that the annual maintenance cost of a motorway is of 80,000€, that of a conventional road of 38,000€ and that our country carries a preservation deficit of 8,000 million euros. This deficit, without going any further, it seems that will mean the approvement of tolls on motorways as of 2024. Therefore, these economic aspects and the need of a high level of service in roads demanded by the logistic and tourism sector, but especially the need of having safe roads, make the application of new technologies that can provide innovative solutions in road maintenance are in high demand.

The modern management of roads involves planning the maintenance actions to be carried out before the appearance of very serious or irreparable damage. This approach allows to undertake the interventions in the most adequate moment, causing as little inconvenience as possible and maintaining the fucntional capacity of the road and its economic value without allowing the network to be ruined and decapitalised. It is true that exist traditional solutions for the road preservation that are effective but it doesn´t make a optimus use of the available resources and it doesn´ t take in count the expected frime developments for planning the optimal time for action. To act effectively, is fundamental in first place to know the status of the road network as accurately and objectively as possible. This knowledge generally is obtained through road inspection equipments that make possible the evaluation and measurement of the corresponding parameters. In this way it achieves a large quantity of data related with the road status that it is necessary to manage and interpret to be able to prioritise the maintenance and preservation activities to be carried out. The problem that then arises is the processing of a massive quantity of information that makes impossible the manual evaluation.

One of the most difficulties, therefore, is the extraction of useful information of numerous data sources, For some type of data, exist software packages capable of extractinf global index that are useful for knowing in a general way the actual status of the road, but these tools often lack the capcity of predicting the road status evolution and its future degradation.

The artificial intelligence is becoming more and more present in a lot of areas of our environment and, often, without being conscious of it. The application of these artificial intelligence techniques can mean also a strong impact in the road maintenance because it allows the extraction of precise information of different data sources and identify relationships between them that otherwise could go unnoticed with the techniques applied until now. The processing and analysis, through the convolutional neural networks, of all the available data (data from the road auscultation equipment, climatological data, of traffic intensity…) allows obtaining unachievable data with the traditional methods. When training and adjusting those networks using massive quantity of data can be obtained, for example, highly reliable pavement degradation models that allow accurate estimation of the most appropriate maintenance actions.

road artificial intelligence

In this context, CARTIF and the company TPF actively collaborate in the development of these type of tools that can make a major breakthrough in improving road maintenance. Also there are other innitiatives that nowadays work in similar applications as Roadbotics (a spin-off of the Carneige Mellon University), the spanish company ASIMOB, Waterloo University in Canada, the finnish company Vaisala or the american company Blyncsy.

These tools will not eliminate the need of urgent repairs, as they can have many and varied origins, but it does have a significative impact on preventive and predictive interventions by making it possible to anticipate road deterioration and thus significantly reduce maintenance costs, reduce the time the road will be unavailable ad improve the degree of road comfort perceived by road users.

There are, finally, other interesting examples on how the artifical intelligence tools can help in the maintenance and improvement of the road safety, as for example the work of the MIT for predicting the road points in which it can occur traffic accidents and acting in consequence or the innitiative AI for Road Safety that use the artificial intelligence for reducing the number of road accidents.

In conclusion we can say that, thanks tot he help of these aritificial intelligence tools, in the next years we are going to have more safe and oeprative roads at the same time that we will notice that we found less works in our trips.

A proper approach to inspecting historic buildings

A proper approach to inspecting historic buildings

It is said that those who forget their own history are condemned to repeat it. Cultural Heritage is part of that history, talks about our beliefs and experiences, it carries us where we came from and grants our identity. Knowing it helps us to understand the problems of the present and preserving it is essential to ensure the new generations can continue learning from it.

Historical building is the wider and most significant cultural heritage set transferredup-to-date, bringing together immovable assets (the buildings themselves) and movable assets (what these contain) of great interest. Therefore, if we want to conserve our heritage we must keep historical building in the finest possible condition. This way we will guarantee its physical integrity and ensure that it can continue to be used by residents and visitors.

Since 2012, conventional buildings in Spain have undergone a periodic inspection known as ITE (Technical Building Inspection), similar to the Vehicle Inspection Test but applied to buildings. This inspection evaluates the adequacy of the assets to the required conditions of safety, healthiness, adornment, habitability, accessibility, use and services, and it applies to buildings older than 50 years with preferably residential use.

So, if buildings from 50 years ago are being inspected, shouldn´ t those built 500 years ago also to be inspected?

The reality is that, as it is raised right now, the conventional inspection is not applicable to historical assets. First, because of the regulation framework, which makes it mandatory in municipalities with a population higher than 25,000 inhabitants, a case that does not represent the built heritage, mostly found in rural areas with a significantly lower population. Secondly, beacause heritage buildings are very rarely used for residential purposes (even in urban areas), and, if so, it tends to occur in fully rehabilitated or newly-built annexed areas, adapted to the uses and customs of the 21 st century. But, above all, the application of the conventional inspection to historical buildings is not feasible because it is obvious that conventional and historical buildings present great construction, materials and use differences, consequently, it must be a specific inspection to verify how they are, just fitting the uniqueness and sensitivity that cultural heritage demands.

This is the origin of the ITEHIS project, which studies the applicability of innovative technologies to the technical inspection of historic buildings older than 100 years, provided with a specific use and subject to be classifiable into one of the major architectural groups: civil, military, religious or industrial. In other words, ITEHIS aims to adapt the already existing buildings inspection to the exceptional features and endless architectural, constructive, functional and aesthetic variations that can be found in historical buildings, also considering the movable assets they contain (organs, altarpieces, stalls, collections,etc.). This is also tight to the broad context od the digitization of Heritage, bringing together all the aspects inspected through HBIM (Heritage-BIM), which we already talked about in a specific post called “The BIM approach: fitting to Heritage?”. Once the inspection is concluded, a report will be delivered, providing improvement measures rating the historical building from 1 to 5. This will allow not only to evaluate its condition, but also to objectively prioritize the resources needed to its conservation. Furthermore, ITEHIS will help to lay the foundations of a specific regulation to guarantee the sustainability of historical buildings through the Spanish Standardization Committee.

ITEHIS, project financed with FEDER funds through the Instituto de Competitividad Empresarial (ICE), is another example of collaboration between a technology centre such as CARTIF and companies committed to Heritage snd the territory they are settled (TRYCSA, ALTEISA and ACITORES), which intend to contribute to those proper conservation through new, more effective ways, so that we can continue knowing, using, enjoying and, ultimately, learning from it.

1 By its acronym in Spanish